The Letter

My dearest love,

I know we had agreed to meet again once this was over, but I'm afraid that won't be possible any longer. What has happened has been- well, not unanticipated, perhaps, but neither have things gone entirely as planned. I hope this letter finds you well- I hope it finds you at all. I must remember I may not have been the only one to encounter... something unexpected. But I cannot account for that, unless by chance I may hear from you as you are now, I hope, hearing from me. I can only tell you my story, and hope, nay, pray, that you will understand.

Do you recall our first meeting? I have to admit - you admired my honesty, or you always claimed you did - that I do not. I can only extrapolate - our first day of classes - at least I assume so; you would have mentioned by now if you had missed the first day I think. It's the kind of event that sticks in the memory - meaningful, a transition, something that one's response to helps define one's very personhood. Ah, I'm lecturing you again, and I felt that was something you tolerated rather than liked. Perhaps you can tell me someday.

A first day is full of new faces - ours perhaps more so than most, considering the size of the school. Yours was never the sort to stand out from them - cruel perhaps, but you know - knew - always that it wasn't your looks which... no. After a while it was your looks which I loved. Along with everything else about you.

But I wasn't in love then. Or if I was, I hadn't realized it yet. Were our fates entwined even then? A meaningless question, but I like to think it was our own decisions that made them so. You preferred otherwise, I know, but you were always softer than I - wanting to believe in a caring universe, where soulmates once forged would find each other anywhere therafter. I guess we will see, in the coming years, which of us is right. Oh, to see you again I would happily give myself up to fate, and do anything he asked therafter. But fate has no business address, nowhere I can call to make a deal - just the mysterious empty universe, whereto in my weaker moments I pray - and in my weakest, I curse.

My first memories of you are when we sat together, a day or two later - or three, I forget - and in those all-too-brief spaces between lessons, we talked. That was what I loved best - just talking with you, about our classes, or nothings - people and things, but none of that mattered. Ironic, isn't it? The only thing we - or I - actually cared about was the one thing about which we never talked - ourselves, each other, and that which existed between us. Or maybe I'm imagining it, making much of that which never existed other than in hindsight. Maybe I talked no more or less - and no more or less importantly - with you than with other friends of ours - for at that stage of course we were nothing more than that. But I like to believe we were close even then - so please, leave an old man his illusions, and tell me it was so.

As the days went on we progressed to passing notes - and it remains even now a matter of some pride to me that not once were we caught doing so. I'd like to think this was because we - no, you, it was always you who was the better of us - were more cunning than the rest of the class. Or more disciplined, perhaps. But you know as well as I do that in all likelihood it was nothing but luck.

Luck, ah, luck. My mother always told me a story, that that was how Napoleon would choose his generals - not the most experienced or the best qualified, but the luckiest. Of course, a good sceptic like you knows luck doesn't exist - and there I was calling you the soft one. But I believe we're lucky - yes, in spite of all that's happened to me, though I may revise my position when I hear how things have gone with you. But for you to have pulled it off is more than enough for me.

Pulling it off - yes, that's where it all began. I wanted - we both wanted - to get out, to find a new life - and if what I've done has made that possible for you, then it was worth it a million times over. But I must be frank, now that it's all over; I don't want you to come rescue me under some misapprehensions. There were things I didn't tell you about the job.

You will recall our meeting of the 4th, in the Churchill. What you don't know is that immediately following that, I went to speak to-

No, this all starts long before that. It starts, in fact, with at library job.

You knew I was doing that, right? I needed the money, and for all you may say, they pay well. But there was more to it than that, it was... yes, it was interesting. There were all sorts of people coming in, for just as wide a variety of reasons. And - you may laugh, but it's true - I genuinely enjoyed helping them.

But there was another side to it, of course. When I got promoted - I got promoted a lot, because I was good at what I did - but as I did, my duties became gradually stranger, more inexplicable - and yes, darker.

Do you know that the library is one of only four institutions exempt from surveillance requirements? Of course you do - how stupid of me - this very job depended intricately on that very fact. But it's not well-advertised, I'm sure you'll agree, for the obvious reasons.

Did I ever tell you it was I who killed Chris? That was well after the events I'm describing now, of course. But once I became comfortable with disposing of people for the library, it seemed only sensible to do the same for more personal reasons, such as a fellow who was rising too far in your attentions for my liking. I wasn't even reprimanded - body disposal's a matter of course once you reach the higher echelons, one more wouldn't make any difference. Except for our own, of course. We look out for our own. We, I say, as though I were still a member of the guild. Old habits die hard, I guess.

In any case, my first kill order came - well, the order was a standing one that went with my fifth promotion, but the situation where it actually arose came up around two years after I'd started. They say in stories that you remember the faces of everyone you kill, but anyone who thinks that hasn't done enough killing. But I remember hers. She was a young girl, cute - yes, I liked her somewhat, though obviously she was nothing next to you. You know noone else matters to me anymore - they haven't ever since you said yes - no, since before that. I'd been in love with you for several years before I finally got the nerve, hesitatingly, to ask you.

Do you remember that? I'd hope you do; certainly I do. My voice was trembling - hell, all of me was trembling - and I entirely fluffed the lines I'd carefully prepared. But something of my meaning must have got through to you. Or maybe you knew already. If I ever... I... I only wish... well, it doesn't matter now. In any case, I think it worked. Maybe it was my honesty - but no, we both know honesty is a mug's game. Some day you'll have to tell me why you accepted. Not that I expect honesty there either, but I'm sure you'll find a story that satisfies the both of us. You're good at that. Stories.

You're the one who should be telling this, not me. You can weave a narrative in a way I never could, join together several unconnected events - because they are unconnected, really. This should be the simple tale of a heist, of the preparations that lead up to it and the aftermath that followed it. But we both know it wasn't like that; the pattern is only there in retrospect, and even then there's not enough of one to fool an expert. We were stumbling in the dark, and just happened to fit enough of the pieces together. They hadn't accounted for the possibility someone as senior as I eventually became would step down from the library - step down and survive. Or at least, they hadn't accounted for where someone who had done that might end up. But then I hadn't accounted for all their contingency plans. But you know that better than I do.

It's still a mystery to me precisely where it all went wrong. Oh, I can identify clearly points where it had gone wrong. And I know it hadn't gone wrong when we hired her - yes, she was a mole, and we didn't know it at the time. But we had procedures in place to deal with that sort of thing - they'd worked with Bruce and god knows how many others, and they should have worked with her. Isolation of operation, planning and constant monitoring - deviations checked. She should never have had enough information to shop us for anything worth her while. And I know for a fact that she didn't know what the big job was about - when I realised what had happened, I felt a more efficient use of my time than the airport run would be to confirm very thoroughly how much she had done. It wasn't her. Or rather, it wasn't just her.

You can perform the calculations, just as I did. We know how much information she had, and I know how much I leaked through other channels - though of course, I didn't tell you about all of that, and I have no reason to believe you were any more straight with me. But I don't want to think this was all a result just of both our greed. And in fact I know it wasn't - you know the response protocols, just as I do. They wouldn't have closed the gates on that level of indication. They had solid data. And that means... no, I don't want to go there. Not until I've finished this. I'll say goodbye to you before I say anything else. And before I can say goodbye, I need- no, I owe it to you to tell you why.

So yes, the library. The standing order was bizzare, or seemed it at the time, though it paled in comparison with what I saw as I moved on up. There were merely a profile of the girl, a list of materials, and an order to kill her should she ask for anything on the list.

I'm sure you've killed people before. Certainly, if things went anything remotely resembling according to plan, you've killed people by now. But you were always oddly reluctant to tell me about that side of your life, after school but before we got together, professionally I mean. Still, I'll assume you did your share. In any case, the hard part is not the killing - a pistol can be concealed just about anywhere, and disposed of in seconds. The hard part is that surveilance then knows that your victim was until very recently alive and now is no longer so, and that you were in their immediate vicinity. But as I mentioned before, the library is one of a very few institutions where surveilance has no jurisdiction; rather, the library is licensed to conduct its own surveilance. Central only knows when people entered or left, and although there will generally be some cooperation for incidents which took place in the library if it had nothing to do with us, there's no requirement for it. I guess as far as Central knows Chris is still in the library - it's not impossible, after all. I used to spend months at a time there, towards the end - it's its own city inside, or it can be. But I'm getting sidetracked.

The hard part is surveillance, and that was on my side. As I rose up, it became on my side even when I wasn't on their direct orders. When I got high enough, I don't think anyone could tell.

Of course, I was curious as to why I was killing these people - and occasionally, amending library records related to what they had been doing. Not too curious, mind - I knew there would be people above me with similar standing orders to mine, if I were to find out too much of whatever it is the library wants concealed. But I am, as you know, an information theorist. Calculating how much I could let them know was a simple matter of applying what we had both learned in class. It's also what saved my life.

You will recall I told you most of this as we planned the big job, but forgive me for going over again. Even now I don't have things entirely straight in my mind - partly deliberate, to avoid tripping any detectors by the thought patterns that result from knowing too much. But that's no longer a concern any more. So, to try and make sense of it all, I'm going through it again.

At first the orders were always about getting those who tried to access certain works - little more than the surface information can be gained there. Had I read the books in question myself I would have been tagged instantly - I'm not that stupid. So my efforts to correlate them could be based only on the few that I already knew, and on what I could infer from who else was reading them. That said, it may have been the fact that I happened to have read one of the more obscure books which frequently appeared on the list only a few weeks previously that gave me my starting break. It was a dry volume, detailing as minutely as possible the history of the empire as it was around a thousand years ago. Of course, if I was watching this particular book about that part of history, it seemed likely that other librarians would have been given the same task in regard to other works about the same period. I could have pushed to the limits of a random pattern touching on that time, but I didn't want to waste my entropy just yet. Besides, I had no idea what the sensitivity really was - I could only extrapolate a lower limit from the number of people employed by the library and the number of books on my own red list.

I say red list - you will recall I was originally given a specific description of the woman in question. In fact, every time I was given a description of the person, and the list of works changed also. But certain things appeared more frequently than others - and that particular book was on almost every list. It doesn't take someone of our abilities to work out that there was a trigger mechanism - but the information you don't have is that the library doesn't exchange data with central surveilance at all except under special circumstances. Every request has to be manually approved. So it was a matter of library-visible activities which must form the trigger - and that meant it was accessing other works. With that insight, and cross-referencing the lists I was given (mentally, of course - any attempt at automatic analysis would undoubtably have aroused suspicion), it became relatively easy to calculate the weightings given the different books, and the trigger level for being placed on the watch list - even with the noise of knowing only a small portion of the list. But there I go telling you how to do your job again.

I have a good eye for noise, as you know, and so I spotted earlier than most a discrepancy. It took me some time to track it down, but this would be my second breakthrough: one of the legacies of the library's original organization is that audio recordings are tracked entirely separately from other formats. So, I in fact had two margins to work with - I could investigate both with enough audio to just avoid tripping the list, and the same amount of books.

The problem would be finding where the line lay for the audio. I actually left taking any action for a year or so; it was only after I met her - her name was Jane, I'll mention now - that this became doable. Jane was posing as a student, but that noise-sensitivity we know I have was enough to tell me something was up. Nothing measurable, but rather her actions were all too perfectly in line with the expectation. Not at the superficial level either - her actions had all the expected deviation from perfectly normal, or rather, they deviated the expected amount from the expected deviation, and so on to the nth degree. To a computer that's all you can measure, but for that very reason it was the kind of pattern a computer would generate. Jane was close to being red-flagged on her books and video, but she was spending more time with the audio.

She must have had no idea how close she was to the line - or so I thought at the time. In retrospect, perhaps she had always intended to run as close as possible - perhaps she was there to draw people like me out. God, her nerves must be better than ours are. I know you'll object to that; you never once broke down on a job that I saw. Ok, better than mine are, then.

I eventually settled on making contact with her the obvious way - pretending to be attracted to her. An inside man would be very useful for what she was doing, and I didn't think she'd suspect anything of my true intentions. I'm still not sure quite how badly I underestimated her.

In any case, once I got her alone - well away from the library - I confronted her, told her how much danger she was in, and asked for her help. She took it surprisingly well - but not surprising enough to tweak my senses, more's the pity. Damn, she was good. But she was willing to help. Willing and able.

With her assistance I had extra entropy and an ability to use it without risking myself. The important part of the history is a brief period of unrest - or so the historical record tells it. But in fact, when one looks beneath the surface, cross-references the sources and applies one's reasoning, one discovers the true events were somewhat different. It would have taken me perhaps a decade working alone, but Jane was more willing to take risks than I was, and I made no effort to discourage her - letting her get herself killed would at most points be better for me than having her around. But she was lucky - or again, at the time it seemed like luck. In any case, as we gathered more data, only one hypothesis consistent with the available information emerged.

This was no brief period of unrest, a footnote to imperial history. This was the creation of the empire, a scant five hundred years ago.

So, why the lies? Perhaps it's a matter of keeping the citizenry under control - a rebellion against the imperial crown which has passed unbrokenly from father to son for ten thousand years is a far more daunting undertaking than the real task at hand. But the reason for this is more the second matter: even Jane - in a manner that was entirely consistent with what I knew about her at that point - saw immediately that it would have been necessary to conceal the astonishing speed with which the planet was - yes, conquered. If it could be done once, then it could, after all, be done again.

Was the final plan beginning to form even then? I'm not sure. At the time I was just following my instincts, gathering as much information as possible. Information is valuable, and information that someone wants to conceal doubly so. But I think a way to combine it with what you were doing was always my aim. A life of crime is all too often an easy ticket to the grave; one big job, enough to retire off if it came off, seemed a better plan. I like to take my risks all at once. I... all this was for your sake more than anything else. I know you believe me. I hope you believe me. Please believe me.

They tell me my account differs from the official record. They tell me they have documentary evidence that demonstrates that none of this could have gone the way I think it did. Perhaps they're even telling the truth, or what they believe to be true. I know Kev - you remember Kev, don't you? The job in Havana? That was Kev's job from the start; to tell you the truth, I wasn't the equal partner I pretended to be. It was his idea - he thought, perhaps rightly, that you'd be more likely to come on board if you thought I had some part in running it. But truth to tell it was all him, which is why we were out there breaking through the doors while he sat in the plane twiddling his thumbs. But that scarcely matters now. Anyway, Kev was- he taught me everything I know. Well, not everything of course; plenty of stuff I picked up on the way, or learnt for myself. Like everything on the computer side - Kev never knew computers, never trusted them. But anyway, if there is one person who taught me how to do what I do - what we do - it was Kev. But one thing Kev always said is that he no longer knows whether he's lying or not himself. He's got so good at it, done it for so long, that the distinction doesn't even exist any more.

I think that may be what has happened to those who have captured me.

Or maybe they're right. Maybe I'm the one who has lied for so long I no longer know myself whether I'm telling the truth. Maybe I'm just mad, maybe I always was. Regardless, this is my story. And I know - if I can know anything, if I'm not just lying to myself again, if you are able to tell the truth at all, if anything we ever said meant anything - I know you will believe me, rather than them. Right now that may be the only thought keeping me alive.

I don't think I'll be able to survive; I have no intention of doing so. When I've finished this letter I will make an attempt to escape, and I will fail, and I will die. I speak of course in broad statistical terms, probabilities, the overwhelmingly likely - but you know that as well as I do, it is, after all, our job. Was my job. Or at least, my way of making a living. I should have found a more reliable way to support you - should have kept climbing through the library hierarchy, put these get-rich-quick schemes out of my head. In twenty years I would have been a very senior burocrat - or dead, but I like to think I'm smart enough to have avoided that one. And you, my dear, well, we all know the library's hiring policies. Marrying you would have been a recipe for a carefully engineered demotion-and-letting-go, if nothing more sinister - and I wouldn't for one second count on that, not with what I've seen about that organization's interior. But once you get high enough in any given organization, rules have a way of not applying so much to you - we've used that on so many jobs, you more than I. I'm sorry, so much of what I say is telling you what you already know. But better redundancy than the loss of information - we learnt that on the first day of schooling. So what I write will necessarily be redundant. I hope you will have the time to read it at leisure - if not, none of it is likely to be relevant.

In all likelihood this will never reach you anyway. My right to a single, unmonitored communication is in the constitution after all - it was you, if you remember, who suggested studying precisely what our rights were, in case this situation ever arose. But I no longer have any faith in the integrity of our government. Oh, hah, another irony - it's almost safe to write that, for if they read it and reveal that they have, it will only prove my point. But I'm a dead man in any case. That's another thing that's safe to write - they know it as well as I do. The monitoring in these facilities is state of the art - better than anything the library has, even, and you don't want to know - ah, I lie. You almost certainly do want to know what the library's monitoring scheme is. Ah, the ironies just keep coming. I am in a unique position here - what I write, assuming my assumptions about the government's integrity to be well-founded, may play a great part in deciding, or at least influencing, the ongoing power struggle between the library and the other branches. Little old me, as I sit here in my cell, deciding the fate of nations. If I'd been a little less competent - oh, how often do we regret having done the best thing at the time - the library might even be willing - well, less willing and more obliged out of petty self-interest - to rescue me. But I did everything correctly, left the correct amount of noise for them to assume me dead - and the library operates strictly information-theoretically, it's too impersonal for anything else. So they believe me dead, and while the information I have would be useful to much of the government, for the prisons service it would be nothing but a bargaining chip - not worth releasing or "losing" someone so high-profile as I for. My only ally remaining in all this is you, my love - if you still exist. If you have not been captured, if you were not always - no, I can't think that. Or at least, I won't think that. Not until we meet in person, and I can look into your eyes.

So yes, I will die here. I can safely write it, for it's not worth their while to prevent it - and in any case, it's almost certainly something they've figured out by now. I could never get the physiological cues down as well as you could, and with the level of monitoring they have here, there's no way they won't have spotted it, unless they don't want to. Oh, there'll be an investigation, but everyone accepts that you can't run a prison without being willing to kill the prisoners if they go too far - and I can't imagine anyone will have much trouble believing I was a troublesome prisoner. My arrest history would suggest otherwise - always polite, cooperative, firm in defending my own legal rights but apologetic when I was insisting. I believe I taught you the benefits of that - see, I wasn't always a useless tag-along. Three days in Seville, you told me afterwards you had bought enough explosives to bring down the walls. But I walked, right out of the front door of the police station. Not enough evidence - oh, we were good. Damn good. Securing a conviction gets easier every day, the uncertainty goes down and the margins with it - but we know how to play those to the limits. Or knew, anyway. If you're still out there maybe you did something right. It's just possible this letter will be the final piece of incriminating evidence they need against you - but coming from a usually tacticurn crook like me, such a thing has better odds of being written to do in an innocent person I hate than as an honest confession of the truth. Even before what I learnt on this job, noone would have believed the truth if I'd shouted it from the rooftops. There are very good folks - better than you and I, yes, better than you even - working for the government, and the library, and I take my hat off to them. Why we weren't recruited I don't know. Maybe you- no. Maybe they tried and you refused, that's you all over. Never take a dull job when there's an interesting one with a third the payoff. Still, I shouldn't complain - your choices of jobs kept us going for three years. Wheras I pick one job, just the one, and look where it gets us. Or where it gets me, anyway. Maybe this was what I was subconsciously planning, all along. Maybe I knew there was no way for us both to get away with that much, to finish up that free, but you would be able to make it if I was there to be publicly flogged. Your name hasn't appeared yet, or it hadn't in the three days it took them to bring me in. I'll avoid mentioning it here, just in case, and with luck they may not even believe you exist. After all, I'm a known information expert, and I could easily be writing this to try and escape the blame for most of my actions. Especially since I'll include the fact that it was you who actually removed the gold. I didn't even want to, you know - but you saw the opportunity, and perhaps you wanted to make your mark on the job. Oh, dearest, were you actually jealous?

That would be funny - I came up with the job to impress you, and it managed that too well. So much so that you modified it, in a way that meant you were responsible for the most public, the most romantic part of it all - or perhaps it's even more sinister, perhaps subconsciously you were sabotaging it, ensuring that the plot that I made, while it would outshine every one of the jobs you planned in the public imagination, would at least be remembered as a failure rather than a success.

Still, I'm grateful either way. Whichever of us wanted it - perhaps both, perhaps neither - the end result is that I have been caught, and it looks like that most basic of crimes, if undertaken in a particularly audacious manner. I, and my sole co-conspirator - Jane, I'm calling her here, or did I decide to call her Kristen? I forget, and I'm sure you'll know who I mean, in either case. Who knows, it may even frustrate the agents tasked with reading this letter for clues - hah, as if either of us believes such a simple change could conceal anything. Maybe I am like Kev - I don't know why I'm changing her name, but I do it anyway, because I honestly feel like I can't remember her real one myself. Remember how I said if you can remember everyone you killed, you haven't done enough killing?

In any case, Jane. The body you found with me when you caught me - no, I'm sorry, my love, I shouldn't let the concerns of who might actually be reading get in the way of what I write. I'm writing because I want to write to you, truly. So, the body they found me with when they caught me. Oh, what was I saying? Yes, I and my sole co-conspirator, attempt to make off with the entire United States Government gold reserve. An audacious act that almost succeeded - but something went wrong, the escape was bungled, and I in a fit of greed, rage, desparation, or madness, killed my compatriot, before realising that it would only make things worse, I would never get away in either case. And so I'm not a dashing bank-robber, I'm a villainous murderer, and even if she was a bad person who deserved to be killed, the fact that I did it out of greed removes my claim on any moral justification for the act. It's a good story - it'll sell, the public will believe it, the newspapers will want it, and that it's not actually true will never enter into things. Isn't that where this all started?

I should probably talk about the weapon now. At the very least, that should pique my interrogators' interest enough that they will let me keep writing. But to be honest, I'm also doing it to try and help me get my own thoughts in order. I'm a mess, you can see that. You should be able to see it, from the way I'm writing at the moment. If our English teacher ever saw this - oh, can I even remember her name? Yes, I can, Mrs Hankston. You see, it's not the distant past that gets distorted - or maybe it is. How could I tell, after all? If you were here you could reassure me that no, it was Mrs Hankston, my memory isn't failing me, everything we think happened really happened, and my present confusion is only temporary. But with any luck you're halfway around the world by now - well, about a third of the way, in any of a dozen places, as would be protocol. You'll wait for me a few days - but unless love has blinded you - which it could, it has blinded me in any one of hundreds of ways - you won't be so foolish as to try and break me out. My best chance at getting out is now, while I'm still being held while they work out what to do with me rather than being imprisoned long-term or held for execution. Which is why I will be taking that chance, the best chance I have, slim as it may be, and I will die but at least it will be on the run rather than in the chair. Is that a better option? I'm honestly not sure. I hope you never have to make that choice for yourself.

But to secure that chance I need a clear head, or rather, a clear head will be useful. I will of course do my utmost - no half measures here - anything less would be an insult to you, at least, if you love me as you say. But you know the numbers on getting out of a place like this, and you were always telling me not to have unrealistic expectations. So futile it all is, but nevertheless. I can sense their loss of patience, so I shall return to the weapon.

It wasn't the mind control - oh, you think you're so clever with that, but we knew about it early on. That's why we had the protocols we did, why Kristen wasn't able to bring us down. Shouldn't have been able to bring us down. We knew about that, it was something better, far better, far more interesting. Now I have your interest, I hope.

Oh, my dear! I'm so sorry, forgive me, forgive me please. I went writing to my captors even when I said I wouldn't, I'm sorry. My heart is full of - no, my heart would be full of thoughts only of you, truly it would, were I in a better place than this. But this is not a place condusive to thoughts of love; quite the contrary, and I don't want to imagine you in it. So my mind drifts, but this I can assure you: whenever I can think of love, it is only of you that I think. You are all I want, all I need in this world or any other. I would be happy - no, I am happy, for I know that you are in all likelihood free and clear, and with that which we stole which is worth so much more than mundane gold. You may even have something of the weapon we used to steal it with, which assures your safety far more firmly unless you try and do something cute with it. You know better than to try blackmail, but I in my conceitedness do fear that you might try and use it to come and get me. Don't do that, please. I am happy because you are well; if I could have one further wish it would of course be to be beside you, but that is little more than selfishness. Please rest assured you are the only person I have ever truly cared about. Without you I would certainly be dead already - the thought of you is all that is keeping me sane here, and at times even all its power can only barely accomplish that. But I can think more clearly of you when I am also able to write it, and the writing is something the guards will only let me continue as long as it continues to interest them. And their attention must be wavering even as we speak. So please, forgive me, my one, only, and greatest love, and allow me to write a little for their sakes also, from time to time.

The mind control played a part in our plan, of course. Controlling the guards eliminated the need to kill them, and meant we could use them to load the gold into the boxes, something which would have wasted time and worsened our chances otherwise. But obtaining that was standard black-marketeering. Oh, it took us over a year, but none of it was especial effort, just the usual tricks - find the right people, apply money in the right places and pressure in the wrong - well, the other kind of right places. No, the key to our plan was something else entirely, and it was what allowed us to get the real object of our heist. Stored ten metres below the centre of the historicly reconstructed Fort Knox is the real treasure we were after.

To explain this one I'm afraid I'm going to have to get slightly technical. I lie - I'm going to have to get very technical. It concerns an old, discarded theory of physics - the theoretical discipline underlying engineering. We're talking about areas esoteric even for practicioners of the field - all the physics we need has long since been addressed. But once upon a time, it was an area of ongoing work - research, they called it.

This particular idea is one from around the time I was talking about - the special time, about five hundred years ago. The role of certain ideas in what occurred is somewhat underplayed in the official record - and then overplayed in the official unofficial record, so to speak. You won't find any of this in the authorized, major history books. But from hints in the minor volumes, or seditious works from around the time - which the library does index and store, and can be read with the proper clearance - it takes a little time working there to fully appreciate that the library really does look after everything - you will see that physics, specifically an especially esoteric branch known as quantum mechanics, was at the very roots of what is officially recorded as a rebellion, but of course actually represents the founding of our Empire.

The truth, as always, is less glamourous than either of these accounts. Quantum mechanics did play a role, but it was mostly from the sidelines, or as a basis for weapons development. In truth the physicists tended not to like politics, or indeed anything apart from their own work - and never appreciated the implications of what they were doing until too late - part of the reason why there aren't any any more. They're a destabilizing influence, and I fully agree with the Empire's decision to do without them.

Doing without them was a lot less feasible in those days, however, since their theories had not been completed. I appreciate that the notion of working with an incomplete theory seems bizzare, absurd even, but it was necessary, for there were no complete theories available. So people guessed, they had a set of conflicting theories and used whichever fitted the situation more appropriately (or, more often, whichever gave the result they wanted) - and mostly they worked, or else were too complicated to be able to calculate whether they did or not. The point is, all this was before the acceptance of universal determinism, which made everything a great deal simpler. The concept of determinism is nigh-impossible to explain simply because living without it is incomprehensible to us, but it can be understood with effort. Really, you don't have to believe me on this one - and I'm hardly the best to explain this for you - but look it up. The library has a lot of material on it, and it's not restricted - and very little of it is redlisted, not that I expect you to believe me on that front. It would benefit me little to get a few of your number killed, but that's not an argument I imagine you'll find convincing, at least where it concerns you personally. If this gets passed on to someone senior enough they may be able to order a subordinate to investigate - but for you reading it right now, this is merely an excellent reason not to pass it on any higher, to dismiss it as the ravings of a madman, and to prevent me writing any more this very moment. The only thing stopping you, I imagine, is the possibility that I might be right - or, more likely, the possibility of one of your superiors thinking I might be right, and wanting to know why you didn't tell them. So I'm safe a little longer.

To contine to be safe I should probably continue my tale, so I shall have to explain determinism to you as best I can. But I hope I now have established sufficient excuse, should I prove incomprehensible - it's a matter of public record, honest, and there are far better treatises on the subject than what I can include. I know, I learnt about it from them.

Indeterminism, then, is - is the notion that events can be, well, indeterminate. The concept is similar to being chaotic, but denotes a kind of intrinsic chaos - rather than being sensitive to initial conditions, an event is sensitive to internal conditions. Unmeasurable conditions - not merely practically unmeasurable, but intrinsicly unmeasurable - and what I'm saying here is the kiddie version, my honesty compels me to point out that even this is not a good enough way of thinking about it to be able to understand the mindset of these physicists - they scorned those who thought about it in this way. The notion is of an event which is not merely impractical to predict, but fundamentally, basically impossible to predict. It's caught up with the philisophical idea - and this one is restricted, because this truly was deeply involved with the unrest - hah, even I'm using the official terminology - of five hundred years ago - of "free will", a concept so patently nonsensical that it's astonishing it ever gained a following, but it did, and a large, vocal one at that. Even after all I have learnt, indeed, all we both built our lives on, the masses will continue to astonish me with their idiocy. That the idea is entirely absurd becomes aparrent the moment one tries to define it, but I suppose I am obliged to make an effort - my sincerest apologies to you, my love, who knows this material probably better than I do myself, but if I do not make myself clear my captors might fear I am trying to hide some messages to you.

Hah, that is a reminder - something else this "indeterminacy" makes possible. If you could generate indeterminate numbers - and there was a time, that time, when people thought they could - creating information from nothing, you could use them as an alternative to stenography, to write a message in plain sight - you add your message to a stream of these indeterminate numbers, giving an outcome which appears compressed - but it's no ordinary compression system, recovery of the original message requires removing the same indeterminate numbers - a basic informational problem of course for any real stream of numbers, but if you had indeterminate numbers, you could do it! Think about that, my love! Think about what we might have done with those. Even I do not think I have thought of all the possibilities yet, and I have had far more time with nothing to do but to sit around and think than I hope you have. But still, unreadable communications! All you need to do is exchange your indeterminate numbers, and you can do this ahead of time. Then rather than hiding the message as it is transmitted, you only need to hide the indeterminate numbers until you have used them - and destroy them reliably afterwards - of course, a problem in itself, but not an insurmountable one. Black holes take careful handling, and alert the authorities to their location, but we've worked with them before, and we've made far harder things than that a matter of routine. Unreadable communications, imagine that!

But I sense I may be close to upsetting my captors again, so I shall return to free will. The notion, then, is that people's actions are indeterminate - and they're indeterminate in some way that having this indeterminacy makes one somehow better, more human. No, I don't understand it either, but suffice it to say it was a religious belief with popular support. We've seen worse, I'm sure you have, down in the lower levels of society. The Empire likes to pretend that everyone embraces the Imperial Church, and the wealthy or at least comfortably-off usually do - it doesn't get in the way much, after all, and we can all see that it performs a needed social function. But there are those who feel powerless, who think chaos has too much effect on their lives, who turn to chaos and personify it, make it something to be worshipped. And then there are those who deliberately invert the Imperial teachings out of some subversive spirit. None of this is news to you, and certainly not to you, my love - I do believe you were born in such an establishment, no? Their very existence may be seditious to speak of, but right now that's the least of my problems. In any case, suffice it to say that these cults exist, that some of them enjoy a certain degree of power within their own localities, and that it was worse, very much worse, before the founding of the Empire. I'm sure we can agree on at least that much, though by all means feel free to disbelieve me on the founding of the Empire being when I say. There are times when I can barely believe it myself.

To be fair, we can't really imagine what it would have been like, having to work day-to-day with that incomplete physics. The very rules of the universe were a matter for debate, for testing - and there were long periods where they had them badly wrong. They looked for things to cling to, and religion is always a strong one; this "free will" made them feel important, and of course everybody enjoys that. So perhaps to a historian familiar with the age, its success would not be so surprising. I don't know; I don't - didn't - meet many historians in my line of work, but I'm sure you can summon one. And you, my love, now have the resources - I hope - to be able to meet one in perfect safety, should you so desire. Who knows what you might discover - another hint, for your descendants - do marry, my dear, when a few years have passed, if I can't have children of my own I certainly want you to - for your descendants to take and run with, and succeed fully where we only managed half of it. I'm sure there are many treasures around like that we were after, like that I hope you now have.

But I've indulged the appetites of my captors for long enough for now; it's time I said some of that which I want to say - almost information-free, we both know full well, but nevertheless it comforts me to say it. How is your sister? I ask, as if you will ever be able to get a reply to me. Well, at least I can tell you something about myself. They're holding me in a standard cell, a pleasant enough eight square metres (four by two) of floor, and perhaps two and a half in height. Most of the walls are solid aluminium, with a metre square transparent section on the back wall - light enough to work by, at least during office hours. No pot plants though. The front has no wall, but rather a set of parallel bars running from floor to ceiling. They offend my sense of aesthetics somewhat - even leaving aside the fact that they're using more than enough transparent aluminium around the rest of the place, adding a single horizontal crossbar would mean they only needed a tenth as much strength in the bars to be effective. But I suppose it's the look of the thing - they're very big on the look of the thing in government, have to impress the populace you know. I guess money or effectiveness wasn't the deciding factor - sometimes I think ours is the only line of work where functionality remains paramount. Sometimes I think that's the only reason crime and criminals survive in this day and age.

So, this is a traditionally-styled cell, impeccably architectured to look much as they would have five hundred or indeed a thousand years ago, back when they were designed like this out of necessity and using the materials available. Still, it's effective enough - getting out will not be easy, if indeed it is possible at all. Assuming for a moment I manage to escape the cell, on the inside a corridor awaits me, or on the outside a sheer drop. One hundred and fifty metres, give or take, judging by my own eyes - which are good, still, you know that, but never perfect any more. We've done worse drops before - remember the two hundred and fifty in Cape Town? Heck, remember the two kilometers off the tower - but that was very different, of course. What equipment I have - and I see no reason to list it for the benefit of my guards, I'm sorry my dear, if I get out alive I promise I'll tell you everything - is unlikely to be up to that kind of drop, at least without substantial preparation, and I haven't the time for that. No, through the corridor is certainly the correct approach here; once I make it out of the cell it's an ordinary infiltration job. Guards - human guards - mechanical systems, the usual. Oh, it's hard - very hard - but no system is perfect, and perfect systems are rarely implemented correctly. And should they catch me, as they almost certainly will, they're certain to do the job properly - a bullet or laser through the head, in all likelihood - which is probably a better way to die than the aftermath of a fall I was trying to survive. Hell, it wouldn't be the fall that got me - I could probably evade the rocks - it would be the water afterwards - not the drowning, I can swim more than well enough to avoid that - it would be the temperature, North Atlantic, worse at night. They might never even find the body - good for building a legend, I suppose. In three hundred years schoolchildren will tell the tale of how I escaped, after our daring escapade, to be reunited with my love while all thought me dead. Ah, an excellent idea, but utterly impractical. No, I need the boat - which means I need, essentially, to take the fortress. The first two guards will be the hardest - if I survive that, I'll be armed and capable - yes, their weapons should be keyed individually, but in all our years together I don't think I ever saw a guard who followed that procedure. Did you ever see such a thing, my love, in the two years we worked separately? Perhaps you can tell me some day.

The first two will be the hardest, yes. If I survive that, I think I will have them. Staffing is short - I don't know exactly how many, but I'd think less than a dozen in the entire building - and if I've lost the element of surprise by then it will be because I am already dead. There are the automated defences, of course - and one must not forget the automated defences, remember what happened to poor Tommy down in Brazil. But evading those is a simple matter for one of my abilities - though no doubt simpler still for you, my love.

As I talk I can almost convince myself that you should be able to rescue me - but it's a faint hope, a stupid hope, and I hope that you with a clearer head than mine, with the entire situation available to you, will be able to see it for what it truly is. I mock the automated defences, but I don't think even you could bring an aircraft onto this island undetected - and while you could glide in in a suit, doing so with enough materials to get me out...

It's possible, especially since you have that. Assuming you still have it, of course, and can figure out how to work it without my help. I'm sure you can - you were always smarter than I, after all - but it's a question of time; it took me two months to bend my mind enough to think like these physicists had to, with their incomplete knowledge, their wild speculations, their hunches and guesses about the very axioms of reality. In all possibility I'll never be able to unbreak fully - of course, I'm unlikely to have the luxury of enough time to find out. And of course, we don't know how it would work on living creatures - we never tested it on one, at least, one large enough to see. There's no reason it shouldn't work, of course - but still, it's probably a risk worth taking. I can't end up worse than dead, and I'd probably make it out... still, using it while in glide would be... Hmm. Rescuing me isn't quite as absolutely infeasible as I thought it was. But that assumes perfect information on your part, that and funding - but I hope you're at least beyond funding being an issue now. No, the information would be the problem - finding out where I am, and it just isn't feasible in the timeframe available. But that would be all you'd need - with that knowledge, some generally-available glidesuits, and that, you could do it.

Ah, I almost let myself hope there. That's dangerous. Hope will get you killed - and yes, I am planning to get killed, but I'm planning to die trying my very best, as you always taught me to. So for now I'll put aside thoughts of rescue - thoughts which can only lead to sorrow - and concentrate on the matters at hand. And the fact of the matter is that I am in a cell, spacious and airy - these facilities are hardly overcrowded, quite the opposite - I may be the only captive on this wing, or even in the entire fortress. So I have as much space as might count as a medium-level office in the Library - three metres by six - and the light from almost the entirety of one wall. But it is a cell nonetheless, and not a place in which I could relax - not for me the retirement of a prisoner, the relaxed statesmanship from behind these walls, the penning of memoirs and advice for the great and good of the day, the eventual pardon coming but a few days before death so that I can be reunited in those last days with whatever family remains me. No, that was never an option - my determination still remains to become free or die in the attempt.

Guards perhaps six humans in total, low estimate, if I truly am the only soul imprisoned here - and I can see no evidence to the contrary, though why would they let me? In any case, less than six would be dangerous enough that even they would see the risk - no, I'm worth that much at least. I suppose I should consider that a compliment - six of them employed just for the sake of one of me. Their union must be pleased. Six to one isn't that bad odds - on the job itself, after all, it was three of us, and one backup, against far more than twenty four. Of course, it was on our terms then - and that counts for a lot. There were still automated systems then, but we knew them and they did not know us. Here the system has had days to profile me fully, to know my every move before I make it. That isn't enough to stop me - I'm smarter than it is - this is what I do, when all's said and done. But it will slow me down, take time - time I don't have.

How much time do I have? I'm a high-value prisoner - unusual, unprecedented probably, in the memories of anyone still living. Of course, there are precedents - there always are, in an empire as old as ours - or at least, there pretend to be precedents in an empire pretending to be as old as ours does. But finding - or fabricating - those will take time, and all is in the public eye so will have to be done with the utmost care. Reason suggests a time of around six days plus or minus one - minus the two which have already passed, leaving me with three days which I can safely devote to making good my escape. Learning to fake-out the automated system will take all of that and as much more as I let it, but can be done concurrently - don't think I've been wasting time while I'm writing, my love, oh no. Perish the thought. I am testing the parameters even now, pushing the boundaries, getting it as close as I can to setting off an alert without it actually doing so. Or getting it to set off an alert with the minimum of effort; while I can't be sure, judging by the actions of my guards I estimate I've triggered close to a dozen by now - all while doing nothing that could possibly be construed as anything other than innocuous. If I'm especially lucky they may have taken to paying little attention to alerts any more. But more likely they'll have just turned the sensitivity way down - which is a good outcome for me, though of course it presents its own problems.

With three days my efficiency of actions will be barely 13% when avoiding the system. That rises to around 17% for four days, which with luck I will get - the best time to strike is of course when they come to remove me - the extra attention from humans more than compensated for by the reduced sensitivity possible for the automatics - and of course of the humans watching the automatics. If I'm especially lucky these systems may be switched off during transport, but that's far too much to hope for. No, I must assume they are in full working order, which means 17% efficiency against six humans. Six humans at 17% - so over thirty if I were operating at full capacity, in terms of equivalent difficulty. Not impossible by any means - at the peak of my training I managed thirty-four, and much as we try and give our all under any circumstances, having one's life on the line does make something of a difference. But not likely either. I need something more to have a good chance of getting out.

A weapon would be the obvious, of course, but also the most easily detected - and the thing they're most likely to be looking for. If I'm lucky the governor here can't stand the hassles of coded weapons, and I'll be able to take one from the first guard I kill - in which case, I'm golden. But again that's trusting to luck, and in our business we never do that. You taught me that, did you not?

Other possibilities? Drugs would help, and are harder to detect, but also a lot harder to fabricate here. If I devoted the three days to it I could boost my metabolism by perhaps two percent of full - enough to push that 17% to 20% if I'm lucky. Plausible, but I hope that's not the most efficient use of resources. Hacking the automatics is perhaps the best thing to do, but it's an awfully big risk - again, home free if I manage it, but there's maybe a 30% chance I'll have just wasted my time.

Ah, but I sense I may be boring my captors once more, so I'll return to the tale of our escapade. I barely remember where we were up to, so forgive me if I repeat myself somewhat. More importantly, I can't remember which of the interesting details I've mentioned, the details that are no doubt the only reason they're still allowing me to read this. The weapon I've mentioned I think, but not in detail; not a true description of its effects. The treasure also; they know it exists, but not what it does, and that is something they cannot afford not to know about. The two devices - yes, I call them devices, ah, I do love to have you on tenterhooks like this, my dears, but my apologies again to you, my love. Needs must, after all - and I must be allowed to write to you. I must have a chance to explain, to try with however little hope of success to figure out what happened, where it all went wrong. Again I have my suspicions, but I must reserve them for the proper time. The proper thing to have at this time in the account is the account of the first time... ah, listen to me ramble. I'm boring you, aren't I, oh darling, oh my one, my truest love. Flattery will get me nowhere, I hear you cry, and indeed it will not, but no flattery is this, oh no, merely a reminder of what is. For I fear in this grim prison - unfair of me perhaps, it is as light and airy as one could wish for, but nevertheless a prison is by definition somewhere to inspire - oh, not really by definition I suppose, but that's something for another time - yes, something to inspire grimness. So, in this grim prison I sit, and rot - again unfair, there's not a hint of dampness about the place - and I fear that even my feelings for you which I once had held to be solid and imperishable as crystal are starting, slowly but inexorably, to crumble. I must be out, I must get out. I have to get out and see you again, my love! Truly, this is all I want, all I wish for. You are all I long for, all I worship and adore. Ah, that won't do, you could always tell when I was quoting. But the feeling is sincere whether or not the words are my own, of that I assure you my love, truly. I fear what may come with the morning - ah, there I wax poetical again, no I don't. But I fear what may come after weeks, months, years. But for now, my dear, I love you, truly, absolutely, deeply, I love you.

I love you, but yet again the practicalities of my situation force me to turn away from that most welcome of subjects and talk about what happened. We should start, of course, with the start of the job - perhaps the leaving of the hideout, but no, that's too mundane, and even though we both know never to reuse that place, instinct still holds me back from casually revealing its details. Also, the dramatis personae are at that point in entirely different locations, some perhaps unknown even to me. I don't know where - let's call him Hank - came from, even now. Of course I know where - oh, what was I calling her again? The woman, the one we both know who we're talking about, though I have no idea even now what was her real identity. I'm actually vaguely interested, if anyone from the peanut gallery wants to chip in. No? Guess not then. Anyway, let's call her... Angela, for now. Of course, I know full well what Angela was doing - or rather, I know three versions of what she was doing. But I can make a decent guess - and no, I don't literally mean a guess, please give me a little respect - fine, I have a decent idea, by which I mean a certain probability assessment, as to which of them is correct. True, even. Or perhaps not; rather, I know what she thought was the truth. But that's probably never going to be a relevant distinction in this tale, so I should stop being so petty.

Now, where was I? Ah yes, I was deciding where I was. Hah, don't mind me, just my little joke there. I was working out where to start the tale. Here I have the advantage over you - yes, even over you, my love - because my time in the library means I have a greater familiarity with certain literary - well, less literary in this case, and more... cinematic, if the term is one that means anything to you? Ah, I can see my guards now - no, I don't mean literally see, please stop taking me literally - but in my mind's eye I can see them, scrabbling around, finding thesauruses. Thesauri? Thesauri sounds better. Thesauri, then. Finding thesauri - no, that doesn't flow well at all, thesaureses it is. Finding thesauruses - wait, what am I talking about, I don't mean thesauruses at all! Dictionaries, that's what I mean! Ah yes, dictionaries.

Dictionaries. Yes, dictionaries. Where was I? Oh yes, my greater familiarity with a certain cinematic form. The artistry of the cinema really was something else, incidentally - I highly recommend it to all of you, yes, even you, most of whom - and here yet again is where you may feel smugly superior to these dolts, my darling - most of whom to whom it will be entirely unfamiliar. But some truly great works of art were produced in the form and the medium - ah, it's hard to make the distinction with works from this early a period, the one tended to mostly determine the other - and not in the direction you'd think, either. No, the artists of that period - and few even thought of themselves as that, ah no, it was always a very... thorough... no, that's not what I'm talking about, where's the word? Ah yes, commercial. It always was... it was always... it was always a thoroughly commercial operation, there. That's what I meant. They- few of the artists of the period even thought of themselves as such. But artists they were, oh yes, artists to a man, and they produced some of the finest works of... art, yes, art, that you'll ever see, in any form.

In any case, there was - and remains, I imagine, with a devoted following in certain small areas, probably even producing new material of their own, though such efforts are very rarely up to anything remotely resembling the standards of the originals - oh, I used to hate such preachy fatalism when I was young. Weren't we out there, doing what they said couldn't be done, doing things that wouldn't even be dreamed of fifty years ago? Isn't what we've done now, surely the greatest heist in history, the ultimate proof of that?

Bah, there it is, I've gone and used the word before I meant to introduce it; but anyway, there we go. Heist. There was a certain... form? genre? A cinematic mode, known as the "heist movie". In essence, it was a film about a robbery - or occasionally some other illegal act, but usually a roberry - showing us the progress of the crime. A stunt - ah, the terms will be unfamiliar, but I no longer care - at the start, then the long, drawn-out planning stage took up the bulk of the movie, and then, finally, perhaps the last third, we would see it all acted out. Of course we already by then know the plan, but somehow it remains entertaining to watch, perhaps because of the sheer visual excitement of the experience. And of course, not everything does go to plan. Hah. In our case, we can say that again. Not everything went to plan, no sir, not by a long shot.

But in the absence of the visuals, I shall start in another way, another form - the retrospective heist movie. And I believe I know the best way to start it - the coffee shop introduction. The crew meet up, talk about themselves, introduce each other, and then start the plan. Only here I'm going to skip all the planning and introduction, and go straight up to the execution.

It still starts with the coffeee shop.

We were sitting in that bar - ok, technically not a coffee shop - at the top of the Africa tower. I'm sure you recall the place - good drinks, excellent service and a view to die for. Of course, you pay for all that - you pay a lot. But we were flush with the feelings of - not success, but perhaps... adrenaline? No, adrenaline is too visceral, this was a more intellectial excitement. Anticipation, there we go. Flush with feelings of anticipation, knowing that in two days' time we would be wealthy beyond imagining or else dead - never suspecting, of course, what was to be my actual fate, and for that matter I don't think Frankie - oh, I beg my pardon - your pardon - Angela, I don't think Angela suspected what would happen to her either. In any case, there was you, and I, and... Hank, let's call him Hank, that's a good name. You, me, Hank and Angela, in the bar at the top of the tower, spending the last of our venture capital funding on some fine drinks before showtime.

While you of course, my love, know all of this, those irritating snoopers may be surprised to hear of Hank's existence, may wonder perhaps who he might be, whether he was even real at all, as they must also doubt about your good self. After all, the official line is, or will no doubt be, that all involved were caught: I have been taken into custody, and Frankie - the hell with it, I'll call her Frankie for this part, you know precisely what I mean in any case - was killed by me before the officers of the law arrived. But if not those directly reading, then those supervising and asking for their reports, will know there are some flaws in this record - that it would be implausible for just me and her to have accomplished all we managed, that there must have been backup, outside assistance, and on more than one level as well. Hence, yourself and Hank.

Hank left after one drink, because, you see, my dear snooping guardians, he wasn't coming along with us. No, Hank would be remaining in the comfort and safety of - well, wherever it was he was working from. I didn't know, made a point not to know in fact - need to know, and all. That way even if we were caught, he could at least get away. See, even in the highly unlikely event that you do believe me when I tell you he exists - and the slightly less unlikely one that you're willing to torture me or some such - I know you'd never publicly admit to it, but there are ways which are not terribly visible, and it would be a good one for the books to be able to find another member of the gang. Good enough that you could probably avoid any awkward questions about how exactly you found out about him. I'm guessing here, of course - and again, I don't mean literally guessing, I mean making an informed estimate which is as accurate as I can based on the limited information available to me, and the fact that I don't want to waste valuable time on finding out more about something which only peripherally affects my escape or otherwise from my present predicament. But I'm guessing we're not being received as heroes. In the old days - hah - well, in some of the historical periods I viewed the data on - oh, yet again my library job benefits me, really, if you can avoid getting killed then it's a wonderful career choice - anyway, it means I know quite a lot of history which isn't taught as a matter of course. But in particular, in this particular instance - oh, where am I again? Ah yes, in particular in this particular instance, there was a hystorical era when creminals - bank robbers, in particular, which is almost exactly what I- what we did - were lionized by the populace, oh yes. Particularly those who were mostly nonviolent, or had a woman working with them at a time when that was unusual, or were stealing from those who deserved it - rob from the rich and give to the poor, indeed. But that was before the days of what we do - long before information theory. In fact even before formal information theory was in use, there was an established art of manipulating - through crude methods, derived mainly through trial and error or "common sense", as amusing a notion as that is - the data available to the public, and once this had been established - propaganda, it was sometimes called - criminals were rarely lauded in their time. Of course the hand of history has been much kinder, but then that was after all what the governments of the time - yes, they were distinct govermnents, quite different from that we currently enjoy, but I suspect if I have yet to convince you of this then I never will - generally wanted. The government of a hundred or so years ago was probably diametricly opposed to the present one - or rather, the present one wants to give the impression of being diametricly opposed to the government of a hundred years ago. Governments are rarely ever actively popular - the best they can hope for is a sort of quiet, "they're not so bad" approval. Makes you realize how well our present one is doing, hmm?

In any case, in these modern days of information theory the chances of our being well received by the public under the present government are infinitesimal. No, we will be hounded as villains, seeking to destroy the livelihoods of all by debalancing the economy and destroying one of our most loved public institutions. Or something like that. So yes, the public is probably supporting your efforts to catch us enough that you can evade any awkward questions about the use of more... forceful methods for extracting information from me. And if not, I'm sure you have people almost as good as I am working for you - and if you don't, you ought to have them, I mean, really. In this day and age, even an organization as... pedestrian, low-profile, non-public, small... as the prisons service needs at least one good information theorist on the staff. Public perception might not affect you directly - but it'll affect the politicians who determine your funding, the boards who decide on your promotions - and that's even without considering the admittedly rare but undeniably possible event of a high-profile case like mine. Perhaps you should offer me a job, hah. It's a famous way of reforming criminals, at least in works of fiction - as a former librarian I should know a lot more about fact than fiction, but as an information theorist I know how the factual accuracy of the two compares. Public service jobs - they break the spirit. Make you not even consider, after a while, leaving the comfortable existence you've grown accustomed to - you like the small touches, the free food, the security, and sure the pay's not great but it's steady money, reliable. Safe. So you forget about the possibility of risking it all - you might make triple as much, or more if you're really good, but it'll be risky, hard, require more effort, and sooner or later you'd blow it all again. So instead you resolve to do the best you can - because it's either that or do it half-assed, and no self-respecting criminal would ever sink to doing that. We steal on a large scale, not thirty minutes at a time from our employers. Lord, no criminal would even dream of stealing from their employers. We know what they'd do to us if we did, because it's the same thing we'd do to any underlings who turned on us. The same thing I did to poor dear Angela, who wasn't even at fault, it seems, just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The information went against her, that 5% significance came up this time, it really was just luck for her. And don't think I didn't take that into account - those of you who've seen what I did her may think it's pretty bad, but let me assure you, it's nothing, but nothing, to what I'd have done to her had I been sure. Oh yeah. I'd actually have enjoyed it, in that case.

You think me insane, I'm sure. Sadistic, in any case. But not you my love, oh no, you know what it's like. You've been in the same job, you've done the same things, you know exactly why we do them, and more than that, why they're not something to be endured but something to be celbrated, once you've done enough of them. You see, you could approach it as a distasteful duty, something that needs to be done but that noone would freely choose to. But it'd show in your eyes - again informal, I know that eyes are one of the least effective ways of telling someone's state of mind. You learn a lot more from the ears, and the hands - especially what they're doing with their hands. Of course, that's the first thing they teach you in any kind of school of deception - watch what you're doing with your hands, hands will give you away. But to an information theorist like me, that too gives data - probably more than you would have given me had you not learned a thing about them. Now I know that not only are you lying to me, you're concious of the fact and trying to conceal it - and someone at my level can probably tell approximately who taught you how. But in any case, the subject will see. They'll see, and they'll fuck with you - break most of the way but not completely, tell you almost enough truth but save a bit to spit in your eye just when you least need it. When interrogating someone like me - and there are more of us in the business than you might think, more even than you'll think having been told as much - only one thing will do. You can't possibly fake it - it needs to be genuine enjoyment. Anything less than that and we'll notice.

Once you realize that, it becomes surprisingly simple. Much like the old claim that once you realize it's a fight to the death, it's a lot easier to fight and die. Or something. I'm sure I got the saying wrong, but it doesn't really matter. Once you realize that your only option is to genuinely enjoy it, it becomes surprisingly easy to genuinely enjoy it.

This is the heart of information theory: it's easiest to modify your reality by modifying yourself. Some aspects of this are obvious and well-understood - rather than spreading propaganda to make yourself appear heroic, it is often less effort - under carefully controlled circumstances, of course, and with control of the dissemination, but nevertheless, at heart - to do something genuinely heroic. But when you get to the level that we're at, dearest - and you were always better at this than I am, that was the one place you truly had an edge over me - is to realize that this is true of everything. Every lie incurs a penalty - it's that bit harder to make a lie believable than it is for the truth. Not at all impossible for one with our skills, of course - we do it every day, after all. Hell, I'm talking about walking out of this building and killing six guards along the way while keeping a state-of-the-art security system utterly convinced that I am doing nothing out of the ordinary. But I pay the price for that - the 17% efficiency I talked about. No, far better would be if I could escape by doing something that truly was nothing out of the ordinary. And while the obvious way to try that would be to change the security system so that it is convinced this is so - and that line of thought leads naturally into the reasonable but oh-so-risky strategy of hacking it. The correct way to approach the situation - the information theorist's way - is to change oneself into something that can escape within the normal parameters of the security system. That will be the way I'm going to do it.

But all this is irrelevant, because you won't believe me. Hank will seem like yet another illusion, just like whatever it was that could have tempted me to go against our wonderful government and the good citizenry of Earth. All I have is the truth, and while the truth gives me an edge - maybe as much as 3% on a good day - the government has enough people working for it to do better than that. Teams of information theorists are vastly inefficient - after the third one you're getting maybe 10% as much from each extra person as you got from the first person, if that makes sense - but the government can afford to just keep throwing people at the problem. Isn't that what they do, after all?

So you won't believe me, which makes it almost not worth bothering including the story of Hank. But I will, because I need to preserve that 3% - I need to tell you the truth, no matter how unlikely you are to believe it. Partly because I would never lie to you, my dear, not even in this letter which we both know is not really a means of communication with you but rather a ploy to let me give information to the guards in a way which will not seem suspicious to them. But mostly as I say, because I need to have every advantage that I can if I'm to succeed with this. So, this is the truth, all of it. Even the lies. Hah, again, don't you worry, just my little joke. There are no lies here, honest. Well, maybe a few.

But in any case, the truth is that Hank exists, and we couldn't have done it without him. In fact, I don't even know where he is, or any way of finding him. Aha, I hear you cry, then how would you have ever given him his cut?

That's the beauty of it, the beauty of being well capitalized, the reason it took us six years between the conception and putting it into action: he didn't have a cut. He was paid up front in cash, an independent contractor if you will. No need for him to figure out the odds of the plan, no reason for him to take too many or too few risks - it even meant he didn't need to know the details of exactly what we were stealing - which of course meant we never told him at all. Need to know, information control - I'm amazed at how sloppy legitimate organizations are in comparison to criminal enterprise. But again, there's a much firmer selection pressure on us - no comfortable promotion to incompetence level principle. If you're incompetent then you're dead; you may still be walking for now, but that's an entirely temporary state. And one that will be corrected shortly.

Aha, you cry again - if he'd been paid in advance, why did we trust him? The answer is of course that we didn't - again, crime does not tolerate mistakes. Had he just taken the money and ran, we had an abort plan in place, and I would have devoted the resources gathered for the job instead to hunting him down and killing him, slowly and interestingly. So yes, technically I do know a way of finding him - the same way I'd find anyone else, by looking - and I am confident that it would've worked. He knows this - not knows as such, we never informed him - waste of information, after all - but he's been in the industry. He knows what's likely to happen if he no-shows, and there's no percentage in it for him - his skills are rare (hence why he was worth paying), but given that he has them, it's actually very little effort for him to do the job we've paid him for, and if he does it he can keep getting income from this source. It does mean of course that his motivation to do the job well - indeed, his motivation to not walk out on us halfway through - lies only with improving his own reputation rather than in being directly compensated. Which means that if it's a job he's confident is going to fail anyway, it's no longer worth his while to do anything. But he's paid enough that the point at which that transitions is when the job has perhaps a 20% chance of success - and if it gets to the stage where your netrunner thinks that, you probably have much bigger problems than having him off the team. In our case, he didn't know enough about the job to have an accurate assesment of the odds - which we rated at about 70%, for the record - but he knew us by reputation, and he would have his own estimate of our odds with his own confidence margins on it. The odds that he would be confident enough that our odds were below 20% to take the risk on it were miniscule.

And so then there were three; Hank went off, wherever he went off to. Perhaps his own satellite; perhaps a rented bed on the tower itself. Again, I didn't care; made a point of not caring. Your best way to change the world is to modify yourself, and your best way to succeed is to be the perfect information theorist - which ironically incurs its own need for imperfections, but I'm getting ahead of myself again. In any case, that information was unnecessary, so while my instincts nevertheless lead me to desire to acqurie it - you can never have too much data, never know what piece is going to be the last part of the puzzle, who's going to betray you - and that's triply important in retrospect, for this particular job. But it can't have been Hank for the simple reason that he never had enough information to do it at all - ironic, again, isn't it? That the best way to ensure he didn't betray us was to never try and find out whether he was going to betray us. But this is the kind of thinking you will have to get used to, I'm afraid, if you want to be able to understand the weapon we used and the treasure we captured with it. Incomplete physics - the particular variety of incomplete physics that gave rise to these devices, in any case - is weirder than you imagine, some say weirder than you can imagine. Or at least, some said - I doubt anyone has actually spoken about these things, other than myself and my beloved, for several hundred years at least.

But we did speak about them, oh yes. Spoke about them aloud, not just using this feeble paper, or anything of that sort. Spoke of them, taught each other them, taught each other to deal with them, recited and learned and solved equations named after physicists so long dead that no other trace of them remains. Adapted our theories, our art, bizzarely to work with that incomplete version of the rules of reality, marvelled at the complications that arose, the impossibilities, the cracks appearing in the very foundations of our lives. Several times we despaired, or thought ourselves mad - there was no way it could possibly work, it would mean overturning everything we had been taught, everything we had derived, everything we have devoted our lives to. But still we persevered; three years it took us to learn the theory, and I'm still not convinced that you, oh dear, my dearest love, really know what you're on about. You got the same answers as I did, you could eventually answer the questions, calculate the equations, derive the odds, even come up with some original inequalities. But I don't believe you ever understood it, not truly, not on the deep, visceral level which one needs in order to be able to really know about something, to use its tools as easily as you would your own body. Perhaps it's better that you didn't - it would probably have driven you insane. It almost certainly has me. Ah, you say up there, I hear you cry, the prisoner is babbling again, this exercise is pointless, we will get no truth from this, only insane ramblings. Perhaps you're right - perhaps I am just mad. The odds probably favour it - perhaps only a 23% chance that there is any sanity to be found here at all, or so you would estimate from the data available to you. But this isn't a risk for you - there's no cost to you in letting me continue to write, and only minimal cost in reading it with a high degree of scepticism. You might even be praised, were it to emerge - let the poor criminal mastermind have a padded cell and writing implements, that's far kinder than straight imprisonment, and execution is truly unwarranted in this case - where's the danger to society, after all? Remember, no-one was killed or even hurt during our actual operation. Of course, there is Angela - who could forget, her picture - the picture of her after I was finished with her, I mean, there's not enough margin in it to go and dig out a genuine picture of what she was like before. And only those who do what I do - who are what, 0.0002% of the population? would notice the difference from a good computer reconstruction, so why not save the money and print that instead? It's not like the press is some bastion of honesty these days.

Her picture will be all over the papers. But you can soothe the public on that - yes, it was a horrible thing to do to someone, certainly the work of a dangerous lunatic. But she was, after all, a criminal; we had, undeniably, fallen out, and with the stakes as high as even that which they're publicly admitting was stolen - namely, the gold - it's understandable that tempers got a little frayed, a falling out ocurred, and while taking it as far as I did may be a bit much, little things like removing their nails and then gradually the fingers seem like a perfectly reasonable criminal response to the situation. After all, I'd never have done something like that to an innocent, ordinary decent citizen, right?

And indeed I wouldn't, though not out of any kind of scruples. Rather, I'd simply never be in that situation at all - anyone I trust, bar none, must have a lot to hide. That gives you leverage, tells you how to control them, what they fear, what they know, what they'll find out. Angela was... unfortunate, given that she didn't actually - as far as I know - do anything wrong. Well, I'm sure she did plenty of things wrong, but not more than usual, probably less than the overall standard since she was a criminal. Perhaps I shouldn't have killed her, in the end, but after you've done that much to someone - and really, we were 3/4 of the way there before I was confident enough to know she hadn't sold us out wholesale. That girl was hiding a lot.

After you've done that much to someone it's hard to pull back and apologise. Even killing them quickly looks like an admission of guilt. And besides, like I said, I was enjoying it. I was genuinely happy, because I had to be, and so I continued; if I hadn't been going to continue, if she hadn't known there was no way I was ever going to not continue, then I could never have been confident of what I learned from her. But as it is, I have pretty perfect confirmation - 99.6% confidence - that she didn't betray us either. But again, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Hank went off, to wherever it was he went to, and we stayed for another couple of drinks - enough to give precisely the right impression, as always, but seemless, because we're professionals, after all. Damn, honey, we're good. That was quite possibly our finest hour. More so than anything that followed it, anyway.

You went off to prepare our descent, while I took Angela to pick up the weapon. A gesture of trust, so we told her, but of course if she had had even a basic grounding in information theory she'd know it's never that simple. There was no way we'd've been able to conceal it from her for the whole mission, so to a certain extent it does make sense to reveal it as early as possible as a gesture of trust - or rather, as early as possible once we've reached the point where she's not going to be out of our sight, so that while we appear to be giving her trust it's actually entirely meaningless since she has no further opportunities to betray us. But the true reason of course was to be able to see her reaction while there was still the opportunity to abort if things went pear-shaped.

Our robotic hauler was coming in at the heavy cargo terminal - easier to get something small out of an area where a lot of large things are coming out of, senseless as it may seen. This was what had taken the most of our venture capital - sending a very carefully programmed hauler out to retrieve it. This really was the moment of truth - to minimise the possibility of information leakage, we hadn't even had it send a confirmation message, so there was no way to be sure it'd actually caught it. This may seem nonsensical - no doubt it would to anyone remotely resembling a normal human - but in terms of cold rationality it makes sense - there was nothing extra we could do with the information. If we'd known it'd succeeded, nothing would have changed, and if we'd known it'd failed, all that would have saved us is Hank and Angela's wages - oh yes, she was a contractor as well, fixed payment, cash in advance. We were a little nervous about that one - once the operation reached its endpoint there was no way to avoid her realizing that she was being paid something quite miniscule in comparison to the sheer quantity of gold we would be taking away with us, even if we managed (as we were confident we could, and as we in fact did) to conceal the true purpose of the operation from her. But she's not the kind to operate for a cut, so in the end we just made sure to inform her that it was an especially lucrative job beforehand (while being nonspecific, lest she either actually take us up on our offer of a proportion of the loot, or, more likely, dismiss us as entirely crazy and refuse to take the job), made an empty offer of a cut of the proceeds in place of a salary, and factored the likely reduction in loyalty into our planning.

You might think we might save time by knowing about a failure early, but that's never the right way to approach a job. In the case of failure, there is one thing and one thing alone that you care about - getting out alive. If we wanted to be able to abort early when the hauler failed, that would mean two early exit plans - one for that ocurrence, and one for if Hank decided to take the money and run. And while to someone outside the business - even someone in it but outside our particular end of it, without our peculiar specialized skills - exiting early might seem easy, trivial even, in fact when a mission involves such long term deep data manipulation preparation as this did, exiting early and remaining undetected is barely any easier than exiting late. Oh, you can drop everything and run, but then weeks, months, even years on, the systems will pick up that the data is not correct, that someone was manipulating information for their own purposes. A trace will be mounted, and bigger discrepancies will be uncovered - they will see, they will work out, and people like me will figure out exactly what you were trying to do. At which point you're a dead man walking - as a former librarian I know all about that. We keep all the data, ever, forever - and while we don't like handing it over easily, the government would under those circumstances, with that big a discrepancy, with obvious criminal enterprise afoot, be able to get it out of us relatively quickly. And then it's - well, here, I guess. Although whether you'd even bother with this over a less glamourous crime is a question I'm glad I never had to discover the answer to. (Even if it meant having to go back a few years after I started and cover the traces of my first few jobs a lot better.) No, best to minimize your number of exit points - and from that perspective, not having the hauler inform us ahead of time was a benefit on both fronts. Additional data security, and making sure we would wholeheartedly follow the plan whether or not it had any hope of coming off.

It did, however, mean I was incredibly nervous at this point - but that was, after all, all part of a plan. This was a doddle - getting in and out while looking like a haulage worker is something your typical two-bit scrounging methhead can manage, and I'd have to be both asleep and drugged to fall down to that level. While I took the first couple of minutes a bit amatuerishly, I soon slipped into the groove, getting the deviation ratios just right, making everything look just as normal as it should and no more. I did in theory after all need to be covering for Angela as well as myself - she's not one of us, oh no, just a gunner and all around job-hand. But it would take a hell of a lot to trip the security on a cargo terminal, and one well-presented woman who clearly didn't belong there but was being escorted by someone who to all intents and purposes seemed like she did wasn't that. There were no problems.

We got to the hauler - medium-sized, looking like an ordinary inter-orbital on the outside. Inside was a different matter of course - most of the cargo space filled with the extra fuel tanks we'd rigged up six months ago before we sent it out. It was a terrible system, but good enough - of course we'd have to destroy the hauler to avoid anyone asking questions about why such a setup would ever be needed, and what anyone could possible have to gain from such a system, but that was already arranged, a suitable collision would occur shortly after unloading, in such an orbital position that everything would disintegrate on re-entry. We'd been staging a gradual increase in ore-carrier collisions over the past year or so so that one more artificial crash would go unremarked by even the greatest of information-theorists; most likely the government organizations would put the whole thing down to chance anyway, but even if they figured out which crashes were deliberate, this would give them little information as to what the purpose was. Similar preparations had been made for everything, of course - it goes without saying among people in our line of business. Right, love? But I'm giving you ungrateful snoopers a window so that you get a little bit of an idea of the sort of thing I do, before you start thinking it's easy enough to go doing it yourself. Trust me, you'd all get yourselves killed in very short order, unless you were very careful. And I'm hoping that none of you has the level of... level-headedness required, because otherwise in three plus or minus one days when I try to get out, I'm going to come against whichever lucky one of you that is, and fail, and die. In that case, you might want to consider a career as an information theoretical crime lord.

We retrieved the package from the hauler; it was there, in good order, and I applied the codes that you had figured out in what was it, six months of effort? Gotta love the military; even today they never like to throw anything away, and in the time when this was locked up they were much, much worse. You'd think that makes things harder for an information theorist - after all, there's little of their information floating around on the open market, not when nothing out of there ever gets as far as the open market - but in fact, the reverse is true. Yes, the information's not on the open market - but that means they're a lot less prepared for anyone attempting to exploit it. And once you're inside - through the door, as it were, once you've become something the military recognizes as being military - their information security is very, very lax. Finding out this existed was the one masterstroke of mine, the piece of data that I was able to glean from the library without crossing the thin red line into its termination zone, that made this whole thing become at all feasible. Finding the codes, or rather, the data that gave you enough information to crack them, as I knew it would, was a much smaller effort; we set ourselves up as a small, neglected branch of one of the space services, and then made sure certain details of rocket payloads suddenly came within our purview. It was quite possibly the smoothest piece of infiltration work I have ever done.

The package, ah, it seems I must finally give in and tell you something actually useful. A shame, a great pity, one I'll defer a tiny while longer by talking about our passage out of the docks. This was again uneventful, but this time my nervousness had changed to excitement, an excitement which I was being very careful in professionally supressing. The job was on; this time, everything really mattered.

In a safehouse - yes, single-use, and with adequate provisions for its disposal afterwards, just as with everything on this job - on the way down, we stopped while I turned it over to Angela and explained its usage to her. Since she was unlikely to be able to believe the truth - not having discussed the history of physics for six months with us, and without the time for me to go over it all for her - I simply told her I was about to lie to her, a proposition which she calmly accepted. I told her what I was telling her was a story, but one which if she behaved as if it were true would enable her to use the weapon most effectively. And then I told her the exact truth.

Again, it's a truth which I don't expect you to believe, but I can't hope to be convincing without that extra 3%. So I will tell you things which, though entirely implausible, are nevertheless true, and while you won't believe me, the implications if you do are too important for you to not let me continue explaining. Especially since the treasure is far more valuable than the weapon, and of the same nature. Gosh, I'm slipping, that was leaking far too much information there - but it's OK, since none of you posess the same familiarity with quantum mechanics that I do. None of you will know what I'm even talking about, and the library will do its best to be unhelpful, and though you will eventually discover the information you need, it will take you far more than the three days which I need you to leave me unmolested for. No, you need me to keep writing - you need to find this out from me before I go, you know exactly when I have to leave - or actually, you probably don't, but you know that when I say three days plus or minus one I am most likely right - and you can't afford not to take the chance. And so you will believe me even in your disbelief, you have no choice, because if you don't then you have nothing, and the chance will go to someone else - to your rivals in the next place to accomodate me. Or possibly they won't take the risk either, and I will take my secrets to the grave - which is probably something you'd be entirely happy with. Public servants, as I mentioned before, tend to be contented; they have a comfortable life, after all, and would prefer to continue to enjoy it as long as possible. But you can't afford that risk; there might be someone young and ambitious at the next place, or desparate, if there isn't one here who will insist on taking the chance yourself then you know the odds are high that the next one will. So even though you don't believe a word of my tale, you have no choice but to act as though you do. This is the true power of information theory.

I hope I've put you now into the correct frame of mind to be told the impossible, because that's what I have to do next. As I say, I don't expect you to believe me, but we both know you need to act as though you do, and since I need that 3% bonus, I'll tell you the truth. Right, here we go, deep breaths.

It was a teleportation-based weapon.

Now I appreciate that with the modern physical synthesis of around 550 years ago - which you will still be taught about in the public, legitimate... ah, I run out of words to use. Information about which is available in some publicly taught courses, anyway. With that synthesis, we know that indeterminacy - much less "free will" - is an impossibility, that the bizzare effects predicted by some of the preceding theories of physics - which you will not be taught about anywhere - were nothing but the noise in the data, as it were; shadows of an underlying purely deterministic system seen imperfectly as through smoked glass. What even is smoked glass; have any of us - any of you, my readers, certainly not you, my darling love - even seen such a thing? I know not, but the metaphor is apt, at least, I think it is, by which I mean that it corresponds to the use of such that I saw in the library. Ah, how much we have lost - but now is the worst time to talk of such things, now when I speak of my great triumph, of something from the past regained.

You see, while most physical results spread relatively quickly, the political situation of the time - oh yes, politics was interesting enough to have situations at that time, even the official histories admit that much - meant that the flow of information was rather restricted. As a result, there was an enclave of serious quantum mechanicists... mechanics? Mechanicsists? Practicioners of quantum mechanics, in any case, in I suppose the foothills you would call them of the Alps. For thirty years, no-one told them that their theory was broken and outdated, not at all reflective of reality.

After thirty years, still no-one had told them. But that no longer mattered. They had built some things that worked. That work still, in at least one case.

The object, the artifact, which I am obliquely referring to as the "treasure", is undoubtably the greatest of these, at least for our purposes. I had successfully decoded the entire list, or at least, enough to reconstruct the remainder, and while you and I, my dear, spent many an evening looking through it, it was obvious that that was the real prize. It was you who suggested that we could use another item from the list to recover it - thought of applying this vicious weapon in a new and altogether more constructive way, and prompted us to look into where it might be.

The treasure, as you must know by now, was at or near the preserved Fort Knox. You may or may not know the history of the site itself - may or may not have been to the visitor centre, been around the museum, seen the largest collection of terrestially mined gold in existence. In any case, that history itself is quite dreary; it was used by a previous government - oh yes, not the early Empire as you see in the museum, but I'm again overemphasising the point - as a final piece of security, a way to ensure the stability of the government, and the national economy that it was increasingly entangled with. Gold, you see, was used as the medium of exchange, as a solid determining factor that regulated the motion of money, just as the energy markets serve to now only with a direct relation laid down by law. For some reason - its rarity, primarily, that being the usual determining factor of value in societies primitive enough that the concept of actual scarcity of any resource is still meaningful, though possibly its electrical conductivity and aesthetic uses also played a part - gold was seen as incontrovertible proof of value. Nowadays, of course, the intrinsic value of gold is essentially zero; it can be produced on demand at very little cost. But the value of that gold, on the other hand, is quite large; plenty of people would like to own a bar of two of that historic bullion. And while transporting and fencing it would undoubtably be hard, these are by no means insoluble problems. In short, it's entirely feasible that we might have decided to rob Fort Knox in its own right, just for the sake of the gold.

But as you have hopefully figured out by now, we didn't.

The treasure which we were after was one which would have been useful to the newly formed Empire. But again, I'm getting ahead of myself... or am I? It's hard to know what's the correct order to present this all in; ah well. I'll talk about the weapon now, and save the reasons for why we wanted it for later.

What happened 500 years ago was not, as I have mentioned, a period of disgraceful civil unrest in the long and glorious imperial history. It was in fact the coup which founded the empire, organized by a surprisingly small number of what were essentially quantum physicists and their associated engineers. And this is one of the primary weapons which let them do it.

The gun behaves much like a simple slug-chucker - well, given the existing bulk of the weapon, it was made to launch nuclear shaped charges rather than solid projectiles, but the principle would work equally well. In any case, rather than explosive or rocket acceleration to launch the projectiles to one place, this simply acts to teleport them. Range needs to be set carefully, which is the only major disadvantage. Well, that and the size of the explosion.

Even firing solid metal slugs - heck, firing foam slugs - this would still be enormous overkill for shooting at single people, or even individual vehicles. When the object is teleported into another, or even into "empty" air, the resultant positioning of atoms far closer than they would otherwise be is enough to cause a... dramatic energy release. The vacuum created instantly in the firing chamber would be almost as big a problem if about a third of the size of the weapon weren't devoted to containing and handling it. So the manufacturers - since the weapon was never going to be one you could fire from the hip, say - decided to go the other way, and created warheads which abused this "compression" effect for nuclear fusion. They're substantially smaller than a full-scale fusion bomb, as a matter of battlefield practicality - they chose to go for the "levels small buildings" range of destruction, at least in this model. The real impact is of course not from the scale of the destruction of an unprotected area, but the fact that neither anti-radiation nor anti-particle shielding can protect against it.

That's not quite true, of course - there is a countermeasure, as there is to all things. If you encased your area in a "honeycomb" of thousands of tiny, interlocking shields, the detonation would be contained within one - or, more likely, having overloaded that one it would eventually be contained within a "bubble" perhaps thirty of your original honeycombs across. If you make the honeycomb small enough that the projectile is unlikely to land entirely in the same cell of free space, you prevent the nuclear detonation entirely; then it's just the normal rapid decompression effect, which will be contained within a couple of layers of the honeycomb. It can still kill people, of course - you can't put a shield inside someone, after all - or individual vehicles not designed the same way, but the capacity to take out whole garrison post is gone. If you're privy - and there's no reason you should be, but nevertheless you might, and it's an interesting story anyway - to the blueprints for the Imperial palace, you'll notice that the walls have exactly that kind of extravagant cellular shield design built in - so they knew about it, and prepared for the possibility that one day someone might be perverse enough to go through these historical incomplete physics approaches and realize such a weapon is possible. But it's not enough of a threat to be worth installing them anywhere else, and although I can't be sure, I suspect that even the present Emperor no longer knows why the walls were built that way. At any rate, Fort Knox did not merit that standard of protection.

The military, being as they are, while accepting that society in these peaceful times was best off with noone knowing about these things, couldn't bring itself to destroy it. So instead, at great expense, they packaged it up carefully, codelocked with the best technology of the time, and sent it to the Earth-Sun L4 point, there to remain until and in case it was ever needed again. Which is where our carefully programmed robot had found it, still in approximately the same stable orbital position, waiting for someone to pick it up and do something with it.

Angela of course didn't believe a word of my description of how the thing worked - after all, I had told her I was lying. But she was happy to try the weapon, using a metal slug (they did make it capable of firing those as well in the end, there was little point not doing so and you might occasionally want to make only a small explosion) at the locked-in minimum range of 100m, which was thankfully small enough that I could afford to hire a shooting gallery large enough. We had prepared some extra ammunition in the months before it had arrived, working from the blueprints we'd been able to find, but we couldn't be confident that that would work as well, so the plan was to use only the original ammunition to start with, and to make do with what there was unless something went wrong. What there was was six fusion packages and three metal slug packages in the container, tennis-ball sized protective shells around a slightly smaller actual projectile. Plenty for the job at hand, assuming all went to plan. But since when has a job ever gone to plan?

She fed the sphere into the chamber - automatic fire on this weapon would be probably the most pointless addition ever - and started to line up and scope out the shot. We were resting it on a bipod for now; the plan was to mount it to the buggy for the way down - and then it'd get our special piece of usage once we were in, but Angela didn't need to know about that just yet. Wouldn't get to know about it ever, if all went to plan. Yeah, yeah, it's easy to be like that in hindsight.

She didn't, strictly speaking, hit the target. She got the range wrong - understandable when it's the first weapon any of us had encountered that doesn't fire in a straight line from you to the target, but still a little disappointing. She must have put the sphere down maybe five metres behind it; I was able to see the target shatter from the middle outwards under the force of the shockwave. Then I braced as that same shockwave came to hit us. It was quite impressive, but Angela was having none of it; she shrugged, calmly, then turned carefully, deliberately to me.

"I can use this".

With Angela thus satisfied there was little more to do to prepare, so we went down to meet you, my dear. Now of course you recall all this perfectly well yourself, but for the benefit of those reading I'll describe your own actions as I see them. I hope you don't mind, dearest?

So, my beloved was standing there, in a cargo lift fitted out with the equipment for the run. The plan was simple enough; we go down, get the stuff, and get out. The only complication lay in the exit strategy, and that was to do with how we were getting down here. But again I'm going ahead of myself; if I've decided not to explain the plan ahead of time, then I should not explain the plan ahead of time.

I'll content myself, then, with the raw facts of what happened - or at least, as close as I, with my subjective human (even if information theoretical) perspective can come to the raw facts. We put on earphones and mics and said hi to Hank; stealth was going to become irrelevant in a matter of minutes. The plan was to be loud, but inexplicably so, having already shed our identities, the tedious details of which I won't go into; they'd know someone was around and doing something, but they'd have no idea what, certainly not enough to link us to our target. And by the time anyone had figured out where we were going it would be too late; we would be in, leaving no survivors, do what we needed to, and get out.

For now, however, getting in meant waiting for about six hours, while the lift car got low enough for there to be a meaningful atmosphere. We passed the time the way you always do - awkward jokes, stories of old times, checking and rechecking our equipment. The suits were the obvious important thing - re-entry will get into any of the little cracks and burn through you like a blowtorch if there's any problem with your seals. We were going with full-environment suits, since though we were probably going to breach the vaults with the initial bombardment, we couldn't be sure enough air would get in in time, and spending too long in an argon-only atmosphere is a really silly way to die. They can never get the comfort quite right in these things, but it was good enough, and we didn't want to be putting them on in a hurry at the last minute. Stripping and changing into them was a matter of pure practicality - again, efficiency is king in the world of crime, and while myself and my dearest darling here might have enjoyed a little play here - scratch that, we would have enjoyed it a lot, there's truly nothing like sex right before an operation - it would have been very much unfair on Angela, and thus impaired our functioning as a team - and also unfair on Hank, on the intercom, though I wouldn't put it past him to have enjoyed it.

Next up was the vehicles, every bit as vital on the way in - my darling here - oh, the irony, you're further away by far than any of these guys, and yet I talk as if you and I are in one place away from them. But nevertheless, such is the only way I can write, so such I shall; my darling here was going down on a light gliding wing, while Angela and I took the aerobuggy. We had a one-use rocket booster to... but again, I'm getting ahead of where I should be in the story.

The buggy was a traditional model, simple but effective. Four wheels, two seats, a large fan on the back, and a gun mount to an old enough standard that it would fit the special weapon we'd procured - which amazingly enough, it did without a hitch. The power cells could output smoothly to either the wheels or the fan, and a gliding wing unfolded over the top for flying with. It could actually take off under its own power, but the cells didn't have anything like enough capacity to make it back up to orbit, which was why there was a single-use rocket booster filling up the cargo area. We'd have to remove that if we wanted to drive around much on the ground - it weighed about twice as much as the buggy itself - but it shouldn't be an issue while gliding down, since we only had to go down, after all. And while it might make the landing a little rough, we'd calculated that there was little risk of serious damage to the buggy. My darling here would have an easier time of it; three times as manouverable as us, and with a disposable wing that was designed for precisely the task it was currently performing - namely, getting one human safely down to Earth. Of course, that meant having to use a different route out... but then, did you really think we were planning on taking that much gold out via rocket?

Oh, hah, I actually got the foreshadowing right there. I think I'm getting used to this.

And with the equipment settled, it was on to weapons. No matter how good you are, how much you know, and how much you know about how much difference a weapon makes, there's still something... comforting about having them. I went with a pair of light antipersonnel laser pistols, Angela was mostly manning the teleportation gun but took an ion beam sidearm in her pocket, and my beloved had an old-style slug-rifle and a sword. Well, at least it ought to intimidate anyone left alive - which with luck there shouldn't be. But since when has luck ever favoured those who depend on her?

So we sat there, we played a little cards - but it's hard to play anything good with three, and you certainly don't want to be owing each other money going into things. So for the last hour or so before we reached the calculated altitude we were mostly just sitting around waiting, staring, rechecking our weapons, cleaning out our fingernails etc.

And then the time came, all at once too quickly, as it always does. One moment we were quater of an hour away from the optimal point, the next my beloved was hitting the emergency stop and cutting the power cables.

Lifts, in ordinary, terrestrial buildings, always have an emergency stop button. It's like part of the furniture, something you'd never actually use, but which helps you feel at ease, which assures you that yes, this is a lift, and a perfectly good working one, with all modern safety features for your comfort and convenience. So even when the towers were built, their lifts were given emergency stop buttons, since it was found that people are unhappy riding in one without it. Of course, stopping a lift halfway down the tower is impractical; what happens when you press it is that, while the lift does stop briefly, after a minute and a half and voice contact from an AI operator it simply resumes its descent. After all, there's nothing practical to be done if there are any problems. Out here on the edge of space, if you can't get down in the lift, you're probably not getting down at all.

But we were going to prove ourselves the exception to that rule. While my beloved used that minute and a half to (marginally more-) safely disconnect the power so our lift didn't move at an unwelcome moment, Angela and I strapped in firmly to the buggy, and I took the controls while she carefully aimed the teleportation gun, loaded with our second "official" metal slug, so as to breach the walls to the outside. Believe it or not, this was the most dangerous part of the mission. While we'd performed the calculations, fluid dynamics is a perilous thing, and neither of us was certain that it would go as planned. The detonation of the lump of metal should tear a large hole in the hull but also increase the pressure above normal in that region, so the initial shock would push us away from the hole. Of course, we would eventually be forced out of the hole as a roomful of STP air and the rarefied upper atmosphere outside reached their natural equilibrium, but - so went the theory - by the time that happened the flow out the hole would be stable and so we wouldn't be banged against the sides, particularly since we were both capable of a certain amount of active control over our trajectories. So went the theory. But even if we were right, we were going to need to be quick on the controls - and my darling, in your lighter but more manouverable craft, needed the deftest touch of all.

My beloved cut the lines and we prepared to go; the buggy positioned forward of the gliding wing, so that my love could see our slower, heavier craft and would have more chance to avoid us. That, and it wouldn't have felt right to be pointing a gun at his back.

We tensed, involuntary. Again, just like always, but nothing even those as skilled as us can do to stop it. Despite all our pretentions, we are human after all. Only human. But these only humans were about to attempt something only six people before us had done and survived. Or such are the official statistics, at any rate - my connections in the underworld while good are not so good that I could establish for certain that such a thing had not been attempted before in the pursuit of some criminal enterprise. And I'm not sure that I would bother to do so in any case. At least, as far as the general public knows, we remain among the first ten people to do it.

Slowly, delicately, Angela pulled the trigger.

Again, that disintegration effect, but distorted even more this time - clearly the shell had in this case been slightly more. I got a momentary glimpse of empty space with twisted metal around it before the shockwave caught up with the light and we were swept back, pushed firmly into our seats while the buggy strained against the chocks we'd carefully positioned to prevent it rolling backwards. Then the rushing faded, and there was an impossible moment of calm, before we rushed forwards, the air pressing against our backs. With lower pressure ahead than behind the vehicle struggled to make it off the ground, but with a firm hand on the control lever I was able to drag it up against its will, and steered firmly for the centre of the hole. We burst out into a sudden stillness once more, and I immeditely (and rather unwisely) strained against my staps to look for you, my dear, There you were, emerging from a gaping hole in what was rapidly becoming a vanishingly small blob on a rope that seemed to stretch to infinity. To my horror it seemed you'd clipped the side with a wingtip, and I saw you swerve away to the left as you emerged. But your skill was every bit as good as you always are, and you wrestled it straight, before diving to catch up with us.

For something so beautiful, the descent became surprisingly boring after a short time. We had eight hours to wait while we made it slowly down, following the gentle spiral we'd precalculated to land us right on the doorstep of our target. This compared favourably with the eighteen hours it would take a maintenance crew to reach the fatally damaged lift car, giving us ten hours to do our work before anyone even realized we'd left the tower. Of course, those at Fort Knox would realize sooner, but we didn't intend to leave any of them alive to cause any trouble with it.

Descending from orbit - which is essentially what we were doing; while there was of course atmosphere where we started (otherwise the whole plan could never have worked) we were still high enough that treating gravity as uniform would be extremely misleading. Descending from orbit is very different from what you might think; you want to thrust yourself not downwards - which will only serve to perturb your orbit - but rather against your direction of motion, to shed your kinetic energy, so that your energy reduces and you are forced to descend down the gravitational potential well in order to maintain your speed. Had we been descending under power, therefore, we would have been facing backwards in the buggy, looking back up and out into space, and thrusting with the fan as if trying hopelessly to claw our way back up there. Of course, the buggy's cells contained nowhere near enough power to do this, and not even a second rocket booster would have sufficed, since it would have to thrust also the weight of the first one. Hence why we had waited and descended far enough that we were well within the atmosphere, which would act entirely naturally to thrust against our direction of motion, thus doing for free what we could not carry enough fuel to accomplish.

However, there is a necessary side effect. Since we are relying on atmospheric friction to slow us down, there is quite a lot of waste heat being generated. The suits do their best to aborb it, and in a sense - the sense in which they were designed, and the sense in which they are advertised - they work perfectly. But while they shield you from all the direct effects of the heat, they can't prevent the secondary influences. Everything is easier to move, fabrics and metals are softer, and the upshot of it all is that even with a vehicle designed for rough handling, one needs to be very careful. My beloved was better off for this part; the glide wing had been designed as an emergency descent from very low orbit device, back during the early stages of the towers, when people had insisted that there be an analogue of the life jackets found on historical shipping vessels - a means for everyone who might be onboard to have some kind of slim chance of making it back to the Earth in the case of catastrophe. Two of those six cases I mentioned had used them - but on the other hand, there were at least two more cases where people had attempted to use them and not survived the descent. That said, general opinion in the field was that if competently operated in accordance with the directions, there was a better than 96% chance of the user making it down to Earth alive.

You, of course, my dear, were more than competent. In fact, you were magnifacent.

He dove and flew like a swallow, passing first ahead of and then behind us, scouting - as if finding out an interceptor had been launched would do anything to let us fight it off - though come to think of it, with the weapon we were mounting, anything which decided to give us a look rather than trusting to the radar and letting the missiles do their work would be easy pickings. Relatively easy, given a gunner with Angela's skills, in any case. Hank of course was with us in spirit also, though I've no doubt he was relaxing in his own private room, wherever it might be - probably kicking back a few beers, watching some of his girlie videos, and struggling to stay awake. I couldn't, and wouldn't, blame him; in his case there really was nothing he could do to contribute to our success or failure that he wasn't doing already. Hacking is not the spontaneous, keyboarding faster than you can see effort which one sees in most of these historical movies, oh no. It takes time, preparation, a lot of effort, and then the ability to execute your plan like a machine when it finally comes to it. Hank could have gone to sleep and left his script running the show, and so long as nothing unexpected showed up it would probably do a better job of it. And if something unexpected did show up... well, we were probably all toast anyway. I couldn't fault him for not staying at peak alertness through eight incredibly dull hours just against the slim chance that a problem would arise which was both severe enough to need his attention and mild enough for him to stand a chance of doing anything about.

You, my love, my dearest, my only, if we ever get any chance to compare notes, will no doubt say you loved it. And I've no doubt you did. But you were free to stretch your legs without worrying you would permanently bend your control pedals; you could swoop backwards and forwards to view the sights, without worrying you would warp the wing surface that you needed to get home with. Most of all, you had an open view below you, down to the earth, wheras the buggy blocked our vision of all but space - and then, later, blue haze, white clouds, and all the rest. That which I did see when leaning over the side was certainly very beautiful - but I didn't lean over the side any more than I could resist doing, for fear I might end up with no side to lean over. Next time, my beloved, you can take the buggy, and I will take the wing.

After circling around the world one and a bit times we began our final approach, down over the North Atlantic towards North America. We went in low, under power, to evade some of the obsolete anti-smuggling radar stations they'd built there that weren't quite well enough linked in for Hank to be able to work his magic on them - all according to the plan, but a tense experience nonetheless. I'm not sure precisely what the response would have been to our showing up - while we were not an organized glide party, it is in theory a free country, and there are enough aeroplanes that there would be no need to immediately connect our appearance to the breakdown of a lift car on the Africa tower seven and a half hours previously. But we would be unusual enough to attract attention, and that was the last thing we wanted under the circumstances. Is the last thing we want under most circumstances, actually.

Gliding over the cities by night was a glorious experience, I must say, more than enough to make up for the uncomfortable boredom of atmospheric re-entry. For all that goes wrong, all that the government is corrupt and evil, all that all of our ancient civic institutons are similar, the library most of all, all that people do wrong and that crime is the only thing doing well in this life, there's still something, something that brings a warmth to my heart, when I look at what humans have managed to achieve. With nothing but the combined efforts of millions of what are essentially precocious monkeys, we have built these things; we built this city on rock and roll. Ah, I forget, such allusions will be meaningless to you. But not, I hope, to you, my love, who remembers still, I hope, at least some of what I said after all those years working in our finest public institution. You will know about what I am talking; perhaps I might even attempt to hide a message there. But I can't do that; the guards are doubtless nowhere near as good as us, but I'm sure even they could do what any amatuer can, follow the basic rules, and detect any hidden information in a message as regularly formatted as this one is. So I shan't try and send you any - and, more than that, I have to make sure they don't even think I am trying to send you one. So I must I fear keep my historical literary allusions to a minimum - well, cinematic allusions really, but the distinction is an irrelevant one. All arts are reflections of the same thing, that's what we're taught in school after all, and oddly enough it's actually true. But I do wish that wouldn't be used as an excuse for neglecting certain of the exelent historical modes, and focussing almost exclusively on the modern, with only the novel chosen as a representative for the mostly discarded past. The novel is a terrible choice, not because it is lacking as an art form - far from it, some of the greatest works of ever have been of the novel form - but because it so obviously displays all of the cliches and stereotypes one has about historical works. It is, on the whole, far lengthier than any other common mode; takes longer to enjoy, and also has a higher barrier to understanding on a visceral level. It is, in short, dry; and while I scorn those who are not willing to put at least a little effort into getting something out of their chosen entertainments, I nevertheless feel that some effort should be made to cater for even those of their ilk.

Therefore I shall try in this account always to be evocative, though also meaningful; while I want primarily to tell the tale in the best way I can, I also hope to provide you with a certain degree of entertainment. Oh, as with all things an information theorist ever does, this is entirely deliberate; entertainment is likely to increase your liking for the work, and hence for me. And it will be useful, oh yes, terribly useful to me for you to like me, and for my plans to come to their fruition it will be necessary for you to like this letter itself as well. You see, even now, I hope, you have developed a certain appreciation for it. No? Very well then, read on. Read on, don't let me detain you. Hah, don't let this letter get in the way of your reading it. Very zen, eh? But also ultimately meaningless. For you will read it, whatever I say here; nothing I write can make any difference to your actions, because you're doing your job, attempting to get some sense out of the ravings of a dangerous loon. And you're doing quite well at it, I must say.

Evocative, ah yes. Well, in any case, the lights of the cities were truly entrancing; I wanted nothing more but to sit and stare at them until the dawn. But by the dawn we had to be done and away with our ill-gotten gains, so I sighed and let it pass by, and looked to Angela, who was maintaining the same professional detachment she had been all along. With her face like that I forced myself to put away my dreams and concentrate on the task at hand, the piloting. It was about to get very interesting.

My beloved spotted the Fort first, noticable mostly by its absence, black against the grey of the surrounding landscape. He swooped around, scoping the whole area but (I thought) shedding a worrying amount of energy in so doing, while I pitched the buggy down and brought it into a hover stance, fan running in reverse. We couldn't maintain this state for long - it wasted far too much fuel to be using it to keep us airborne. But we could hold it more than long enough for what we needed.

The guards don't patrol at the preserved Fort Knox - why would they? They're there mainly for show anyway - to look good for the tourists, like in the old days - and the tourists aren't coming in the dead of night. The real security's in the automatic systems, right? The guards are just there to monitor them really, and besides, it's not like anyone's ever really going to attack the Fort. Sure, the gold in it's got a bit of value, but not enough to be really worth fighting over, not like the days when gold was actually worth something. And as far as the official record goes, nothing but gold - well, and silver, and gems, and a small amount of the official currencies of the time of all the foreign nations that the ancient power whose home reserve this was had to interact with - but all things essentially like the gold, nothing else was stored there.

Perhaps we should have gone in quiet. We debated it, you know; it was certainly a feasible operation. Land a few miles away, get Hank to give the systems a gentle nudge, just create a hole big enough for us to work with (which isn't very big, not with information theorists of our level) and let us do our stuff. Getting a bulk of gold out that way would've been much harder, but we could settle for half of it - that'd be enough, still, just about, to make it look like the robbery had been worthwhile purely for the sake of getting the gold. We ran the numbers and it came out worse, but not by much - and of course, our information is always incomplete. Perfect information is the silver goddess of information theory, theoretical and absolute, beautiful and deadly, and never existent outside of theory.

In truth I would have pushed for the loud approach even if the numbers had been slightly against it. My reasons are stupid, personal, and altogether too human. You up there will probably believe it was simply the desire to take more human life - after all, that's what you want to be able to tell the public, that I'm a madwoman, dangerous, sadistic, living only for the suffering of others - and while you may not be an information theorist and you certainly shouldn't be taking my word for anything, I am sure you can figure out yourself that the best way to be able to say that convincingly is if you believe it yourself. But in truth - remember my 3%, again, I need every advantage I can get when expressing this, otherwise I'll never have a hope of success - it's a lot more subtle than that. A lot more subtle, and a lot more stupid. In short, it wasn't the desire for killing; it was the desire for recognition.

Of course, we would be recognised in either case. Assuming of course we succeeded, we would have pulled off the greatest crime in history, by a long margin - even only taking into account the publicly known portion. But there was something in me that screamed out, that wanted to be seen in the moment of doing it, that wanted to declare myself a criminal mastermind in front of the entire world. I wanted to kill those people, not for the pleasure of killing, but so that there would be someone there who could acknowledge me, someone who knew what I was doing, what I was giving up for the sake of this enterprise, my art, my legacy. I did not want to go stalking in like thieves in the night - even if, in the most true sense of the terms, that is exactly what we were in either case - not when this was the greatest moment of my life, the point that determined the success or failure of my entire career.

The guards at Fort Knox do not patrol, so there was only the guardhouse to take care of. Angela was ruthless - utterly without emotion, the ideal of what every information theorest aspires to be, at least when it came to combat. Coldly and methodically she followed the plan - while three shots would probably have sufficed, looking at it, she took the five we had always said we would, placing them in a perfect X pattern over and through the guard post. The seconds betweeen shots worried me a little, but they needn't have; Angela overlaid each pair of shots carefully so that no-one could have run between the two areas of effect in the intervening time. Not well enough to have even a ghost of a hope of surviving. Most of the guardsmen died in their sleep, I'm sure, but even then, perhaps fewer than should have; she left the centre shot 'till last, letting them be woken up by the first four. There was no cruelty here, mind - just cold-hearted rationality. Soldiers who are - or were until a few seconds ago - asleep are far safer to be leaving alive for a few extra seconds than those who are on duty.

With the guard post levelled we retreated in a glide to a mile or so down the approach road. This was the true beauty of the plan, the heart of the scheme we'd concocted, and had taken weeks of study of the specific Fort Knox automatics. The levelling of the guard post via nuclear explosions was so far out of the expected parameters - in the peaceful Empire in peacetime, after all, I'm sure that under its original ownership that was an all-too-important consideration to be making - that it would not immediately raise the alarm, only alert the local guards and ask them for confirmation. And this system was old and stupid enough not to realize that all the local guards were dead.

Fusion is relatively clean, and the suits that we would be keeping on anyway were enough that we didn't need to worry. We landed on the road, somewhat less than perfectly, me bouncing on the tires a bit and even my beloved falling over as he actually came to a stop; he later blamed it on the damage to his left wingtip, which I'm not sure I quite believe. Sorry, my darling, my love, you know I love and trust you completely, but you also know that I'm an information theorist, and thus you know that I know full well that you were spouting bollocks there. Why you even bothered I'm not sure; male tradition, perhaps.

With the wing glider adequately disposed of - again, another boring detail, and I'm including more than enough of those, I think - and the rocket booster deposited at the side of the road - not something I was happy with, but logically entirely reasonable, this road doesn't go anywhere else and there aren't that many criminals around in this day and age. Believe me, I know how close to being obsolete we are. My darling was squeezed in on top of me - something I wasn't quite yet too tense to enjoy, even through the suits that said that objectively, no possible difference in sensation could exist between being sat on and not while wearing. And we drove carefully into the fort, right through the front entrance.

We were ahead of schedule - or, more accurately, we were less far behind schedule than our schedule had allowed for. So we had a few minutes to sit around while we waited for the next part of the plan to arrive, while Hank cursed and apologised over the radio for having not gotten the vaults open yet, before finally whooping and cheering and patting himself on the back most wholeheartedly. In truth his job was essentially complete at that point; all he would be doing from now on would be running interference for us, watching the law enforcement nets and telling us when they were closing in. Useful information, to be sure, but nothing we couldn't have estimated for ourselves if pressed. As for the route out, my darling here was taking care of his own way, and I don't think there would be anything Hank could do about our shooting up. We'd be relying on poor coordination between the nets - still a big problem, oh yes, even within our glorious solar system spanning Empire. The nets may belong to the same political entity, but they were built while there were powers at play vigorously opposed to even the possibility of communications between each other. There are whole design areas that exist specifically to prevent the nets interoperating, and while they have been mostly worked around by more esoteric information theorists than myself, the fact remains: communication of data between distinct regions, of which you can pass through at least five on your way from the ground to LEO, is fundamentally slow. We could make enough transitions that tracing us would take too long to pick up the trail - all we had to do, after all, was make it to one of the free satellites and make it out again before they realized we were there. Yes, even in these days of the glorious Empire, there are a few independent states in existence, up there in orbit, and a few more out in the asteroid belt. While the Empire does not formally acknowledge their statehood, and retains the right to invade and nationalize them at any time - and no doubt probably did invade the satellite we'd used, after we were gone, either formally with uniformed officers or informally with more spies than the place has permanent residents - but the important factor is, many of them - and this one in particular - do not have proper surveillance nets, or indeed in this case any surveillance net at all. A loophole the government will no doubt set about closing now - after all, some criminals as high profile as we are almost got away thanks to that. I almost feel bad about making life harder for those who have to follow in our footsteps. Almost, but not quite. If they want to make a name for themselves, they should do it by being better than anyone who's ever come before, us included. That's what we did, right?

Well, given that we actually got caught, half of us anyway, I'm not sure how generally acknowledged our success will be. Still, one fact is undeniable, and will leak out even through the best efforts of your top information theorists - you do not have the gold. You do not even know where it is - and while these guards may not even accept the existence of you, my beloved, they do have to accept what you have done. While I am almost certainly lost, you are proof of success, the greatest achievement of criminal enterprise ever, oh yes. It's almost enough to be worth dying in here for.

But don't for a second think that I've given in, oh no. All this time I've been studying the systems as I write, looking for the flaws, beneath the surface, the subtle and normal assumptions that go into every piece of software but which can be exploited by those such as I. Already I'm up to 12% efficiency; things are going far better than I could have dared hope. The human factor is now the primary remaining problem, and I'm making progress on that too, oh yes. By this point in the narrative, the things which I have started to put in place should be coming through clearly. I went for a little drug fabrication too in the end - hacking is a risk not worth taking, but a reliable bonus 2% is going to be enough to make all the difference. I almost feel that I could take them on now if they came to get me - well, if they came to get me now, of course I would take them on, suicidal as it might be. But they won't, not yet - they'll delay the transfer of me out on spurious grounds if they need to - because they need to hear how the story ends. While they may lose patience with me if I ramble too much, I have them now - they can't afford to let me stop. Because fantastical as it is, there is too much plausibility in my story - plausibility that comes, I will remind you for their benefit, from the fact that it is, in fact, true.

So then, where do we come to next in this true story? Ah yes, we waited and listened to Hank's crowing. But as we did so, my beloved and I put our own side of the plan into action - he asked to have a check of the gun. While slightly suspicious, Angela was willing to let him - after all, there was no good plausible reason she could use to politely refuse, and so, trapped by the societal bounds, revealing once and for all that she is nothing remotely resembling an information theorist, she allowed him to take the weapon.

While she and I made small talk at just the right level of nonsuspiciousness - a task I could do in my sleep, and by this point was very nearly having to - but the tiredness, like everything else, had all been carefully taken into account when forming the plan. When something is unavoidable, make it work for you rather than against you - our slowed reactions although mostly disadvantageous would make it easier for us to pretend to be certain particular members of the local fauna. And so, my love and I's strategy for evading the automated systems - something that still needed doing, since the small local alert from the nuclear explosions would not prevent a major alert being triggered if it came across some more mundane form of malfeasance - was centered around that. While she and I made small talk, my precious delicious darling made one careful alteration to the weapon.

He reversed the polarity of the neutron flow, making it shoot backwards instead of forwards. In other words, rather than teleporting a projectile out of the firing chamber, the weapon was now going to teleport whatever was at the target location into the firing chamber.

Carefully, my precious darling set the coordinates we had perfectly calculated. Thankfully, the government people who buried this were perfectionists, just like I. When they say precisely 30m below the marked point on the floor of a certain room, they really do mean precisely 30m down. With a quick satellite position check - sloppy, but there really was no other alternative - he pointed the gun, calibrated the settings, and pulled the trigger.

There was a shudder as of a mild earthquake as, 30 feet below in the solid concrete, a chunk of what had previously been more solid concrete suddenly became empty vacuum. Meanwhile, while I chatted aparrently aimlessly to keep Angela from investigating this too closely - which appeared to succeed, for but for a yell of "Hey, be careful with that thing!" she showed no inclination towards further inquiry - my dearest was hurriedly opening the chamber and removing whatever it contained.

We had in fact been bang on, thanks once again to those overly careful ancient government engineers. Surrounded by nothing but air - well, probably argon or something similar when we had first teleported it, but air now - was the treasure itself, a square wafer of a sort that would be familiar to anyone who has watched a hacker movie from back when they still made them.

I suppose there is nothing for it now than to give you what you actually want, namely an explanation of what this thing, the treasure to which we went to all this effort to retrieve, actually is. I had hoped to defer it a little longer, to give my embedded triggers more time to go to work, and myself more space to add more of them to reinforce the effect, but I see that pressure from above and your own discontent force my hand. Very well, I shall unleash the final trigger, the one that sets the last pieces of events in motion, afterwards, but first, I shall explain it to you.

What I had discovered in the history books was an artifact more powerful than any calculating engine mankind has ever posessed. Well, that's a complete lie - it was, after all, the work of man, and so to claim it was greater than any work of man is plainly false. But it is something very special. You see, while the weapon was useful to those scientists running their coup and creating a government - probably more useful than any of the rest of their inventory - in these stable, information oriented times, at least for one who cares less about changing the world than about getting rich and thereby living well for themself - this is, as I have been calling it, the true treasure.

The name will mean nothing to you, but I sense you are impatient to get an answer of some sort out of me, so here you go: it's a quantum computer. See how useless that piece of knowledge is!

Very well, I will explain. As I have said, these scientists, these physicists were working on an incomplete theory of physics - of reality, of the way the world works. One that included nondeterminism. And while we know the true reality is entirely deterministic, thanks to our wonderful physical synthesis, no-one had bothered to tell these physicists that. So they ignored it, and made their device work. A quantum computer, the ultimate computer.

The notion is straightforward, once you understand the idea of nondeterminism. Of course, doing that took me the best part of six months, and this was coming from a serious information-theoretical background. I say this honestly and with no codecension meant: I'm not sure whether any of you will ever manage it. You of course have, my love, at least enough to get by, but even you don't truly know what you are dealing with. As I have said, if you did it would surely drive you mad, as it is gradually doing or perhaps already has done to me.

Essentially, in any case, the idea is this. We have some problem, whose solution is characterized by a certain set of bits. The notion of a bit is, I hope, so basic and fundamental to our present society, that I would hope that even you have understood it. You were, at the very least, taught about it in school - though I imagine that like most school students, while you eventually learnt the right way to apply the formulae to pass the test, you never truly understood what a bit was. After all, if you had, you would have become information theorists instead of prison guards.

In any case, we characterize our solution in terms of a set of bits, and use a set which can take values representing all possible solutions. Then, we use nondeterminacy to place a set of that many bits into an indeterminate state, which therefore represents all possible solutions!

Yes, that's impossible. But it doesn't matter; the computer can do it. There really is no other way to understand it; my love spent perhaps two months trying to reform the governing equations to express them in terms of the true physical synthesis, and fails. Of course, this cannot be right - just like Newtonian gravity, it must be possible to derive the equations of that incomplete theory as approximations in certain cases to the general theory. But no-one, so far as I know, has ever managed it. Thus I truly cannot explain this phenomenon to you except in terms of nondeterminacy, and while the concept is fantastical - entirely unbelievable - I hope that my sincerity may perhaps be enough to convince you. It isn't much, but it's all I have. Have I ever lied to you?

And so, once again, the truth. All I'm offering is the truth, nothing more - but yet again, the allusion there means nothing to you. The line is true as is, nevertheless, so maybe you can gain a certain appreciation for my work, my artistry there, regardless of whether or not it was truly my own. Isn't the ability to remember an appropriate quote an equal expression of talent as the ability to come up with an original one? No, of course not - originality is the highest thing to which we can aspire, the creation of new information, the addition to the corpos of humanity - all quoting is doing, meanwhile, is shifting bits around. Which can be important and useful - knowledge needs to be organized, after all. All the data in the world is no use if you have no means of converting it into information. But still, greater by far is the acquisition of truly new information.

So, the truth. The truth is, that among the various inventions of those physicists was a computer more powerful than any before or since - a quantum computer. By using indeterminacy and inputting all possible answers, we are able to output the one correct answer. How? This is the essence of the computer; it is one that can operate on indeterminate bits without destroying their indeterminacy.

It sounds like nonsense, I know. Believe me, I know better than you do - I'm someone who's been working with bits all my life, remember. But nevertheless, the undeniable fact, the thing that's entirely clear from the historical record if you are someone with my abilities, is that they built it and it worked. So bizzare, and fantastical, as it may sound, nevertheless, the treasure is real. I hope it is real. Otherwise all of this will have been for nothing. Nothing but empty, worthless gold, that is.

I'll try and explain some more, although often times I barely think I understand it myself. The quantum computer needs a program which verifies that the solution really is the solution. Then, it operates on the nondeterminate set of bits, checks whether they are the solution, and destroys the universe if not. I appreciate that this sounds fantastically perilous - and faintly ludicrous - and can only assume that they must have been very desparate when they first began to use it. But over time, it became established that this bizzare technique does in fact work; because it's impossible to ever arrive in a universe where the set of bits put in was not the correct answer set, we instead observe that the bits we put in which we thought were nondeterminate did in fact happen to be precisely the correct answer set. And thus, by measuring them, we can find out what the answer was.

Bizzare, yes. Implausible, entirely. I agree with all your criticisms of this account and then some, but there is one simple, incontrovertible fact which would be clear as day to any true information theorist who examined the history of the period: it is true. And regardless of whether my beloved now has it or not, whether he is ever going to use it, whether it still works, whether he even exists, the undeniable fact of the matter is that historically, such a thing existed. And that's enough that you, I think, have to take the chance. You don't need me to tell you what would be possible with that device - stealing from banks, over the nets rather than in real life as we did, would be the absolute least of what you could accomplish.

And so, here you see the beauty of my account. You have to go along with me; you have no choice in the matter. The prize is worth such a large factor more than I am as a prisoner, that there really is no other option. Of course I will try and swindle it out of you and get my escape into the bargain; that goes without saying. But I'm almost beat; I'm far from at my best; I'm talking about 19% efficiency and calling it optimistic. You've got a decent chance of outthinking me. Certainly, enough that your expected gains from cooperating with me vastly outweigh those from keeping me imprisoned.

You're not convinced, I can tell. That's ok. You can take your time, read over what I'm saying again, look things up in the library - not that you should trust them even as much as you trust me - do whatever it takes to convince you. All I ask is that if you're unsure, you hold off transferring me out. Keep me here until you're absolutely confident of what you want to do with me. I am, if you believe you're at all competent in the execution of your duties, harmless - in that I am imprisoned, this being a prison - and therefore trapped. So, you can keep me here, for as long as you need me. When you've run the odds, and realized the only sensible option, I'll be waiting.

But I guess I had best finish the story, whether or not I've got past the only part you're interested in. This is a letter, in form if not in content, and letters should not simply tail off in the middle. So, then, to what happened after that. Leading on up, right the whole way, to the inevitable conclusion.

My darling beloved retrieved the computer, at least I hope he did and such was what he indicated to me, in one of the various reliable methods of communication that we have. He stashed it away somewhere, even I don't know where, but I don't see the need to - unlike you, I have faith. I know he's more than competent, I know he'll have taken care of it.

After that, the second great part of the plan arrived: a UPS robo-van. One of the first all-robotic fleets, and with the company barely hanging on, there's no time to change them around to be more intelligent. No, they care about one thing and one thing only: driving along roads. They couldn't care less whether they're driving past a bombed-out garrison post; if it's a valid road, they'll follow their orders.

When the van arrived we set to work. This was dreary, back-breaking stuff, not at all the glamour I'd sought from a life of crime. Oh, why do I lie? I was never in it for the glamour, I was in it for the gains - and every bar we picked up now was ours. We had a strict two hour time limit on this phase, which wasn't quite enough time to clear the place out, but we made a damn good job of it. Certainly, enough that the government wouldn't be able to pretend nothing at all had been taken. And enough, crucially, to give a plausible explanation for why we were doing it.

The first snag - or at least, the first obvious one - came about ten minutes before the end of that two hours. Hank informed us that there were police moving in on us - way too early, far before anyone other than us could have known about it. But there would be time to worry about that later; for now we had to sort out getting out of here alive, first.

We stopped for just long enough to load up what we were currently carrying and tidy everything up, then sent my precious beloved on his way. He'd hack the van himself en route - the default destination for lost vans gave him more than enough time to do so - and then take it to our arranged rezvendous, three days therafter. Yes, if you really want I can tell you precisely where and how, but it won't do you any good - even if you do believe he exists, he was only going to be there then, and along with two hundred other people. He's long gone by now, gone far away, where you will never find him, at least if he's not doing something incredibly foolish to try and rescue me. Which, I have to admit, I wouldn't put past him.

Even now I'm not sure whether I behaved suboptimally out of my love for him - for you, my dearest, oh yes, for you. Certainly there were valid reasons for having the van leave right away - he did, after all, have all the material evidence connecting us to the theft. A small piece, in the grand scheme of things, but one that had the potential to be convincing for long enough to matter. Also, his escape needed more time and effort than ours - we were probably home free once we got airborne, while he would only be safe once his van had covered enough routes in the UPS' byzantine scheduling system to be indistinguishable from any other. But I think perhaps my truest reason was not to protect him but to be away from him, so that I wouldn't have to make the dreadful accusation I am, alas, I'm sorry, oh my sweet, but I'm afraid I will shortly have to be making.

But not yet; for now I detail the escape. Quietly and professionally, we ran to the buggy and headed back to the road where we'd left the booster. Diving into the bushes, I struggled to find the rocket, while Angela stayed there, watching the sky and the land, with the last of the good fusion shells ready to go.

Desparately I slung the booster up - it seemed to have doubled in weight since I'd put it down, but I realized that it was only my own tiredness that had changed. As the sounds of cars drew closer I, impossibly, stuck to my art, kept my calm, and began bolting it into place. I looked up only once, as a searing white flash appeared close in front of us, and I realized that Angela had fired on the police at close range. Then I hurried to tighten the last nut before the shockwave hit, barely managing to keep the thing on. I checked nothing had come loose before setting the trigger mechanism and then leaped into the driving seat, hurriedly strapping myself in, as Angela - face creased, brow sweaty, that calm professional demeanor finally starting to slip - loaded the last of the good shells, metal slug only, into the teleportation weapon.

It wasn't the smoothest of takeoffs; quite the opposite. The rocket was self-correcting, but it needed a few seconds' worth of data before making adjustment, with the result that we damn near flipped over before it started to straighten out. Intellectually I understood that this would always be the case, that the rocket had been carefully designed with the threshold time set just right so that it never went so far over as to be unrecoverable, but the primitive, monkey part of me refused to accept this. I clung on for dear life and then we were away, rising up to meet the stars, away from the carnage and terror of life on the ground. Unfortunately, a denizen of the ground was coming up to meet us, a police vulture going full throttle upwards to catch it. Even as my conscious mind screamed and prepared for death, my instincts, honed by a lifetime of information theory, lead me to roll the buggy gently around, enough for Angela to take quite possibly the shot of her career. In the dark, needing to get the range right, she put the compression explosion right on the craft's nose, and we watched it tumble impotently away. There was the potential that the coppers might survive that, but it didn't matter now, not enough to be worth worrying over anyway. Either we'd make it out, or we wouldn't.

Wanting to do what I could to make sure it was the former of those options, but lacking the ability to do anything myself during the boost stage, I spoke to Hank, listened to his play-by-play of the units moving to intercept us. He was well-informed but not implausibly so, probably just very good at his job, though I resolved to watch closely. In any case, none of the pursuit teams from the ground police were remotely fast enough to catch us, and within a few minutes they acknowledged this and fell away, leaving us alone, rising into the predawn sky atop a column of flame.

The view was spectacular - perhaps unfortunately, it seemed to me the perfect thing to see before you die. As the Earth fell away the night became darker until suddenly, like a diamond emerging from some crushed rock, or a sword that had been buried in mud reappearing, the sun peeked over the edge of the diminishing Earth, brightening our faces but doing nothing for the chill. Yes, of course we could have set our suits so that there was no chill, and I at least (I can't speak for Angela, oddly enough that wasn't one of the things I asked her about) had mine taking the worst off it, but under those circumstances the experience should be of the cold.

The sun brought with it more bad news; Hank, either faithful to the last or believing he could still salvage more for his reputation than staying up to handle this was taking out of him, kept me in the know. A couple of military ramjets had been sent up, and his evidence was that the orders were probably shoot-on-sight. It occurred to me far too late that it would probably have been a simple matter to make the teleportation gun able to target everywhere, not just the places you pointed it at, and then hold the world to ransom. Ah well, you can't win them all. Besides, this was a lot more fun. Perhaps I'd subconsciously known about the possibility, but wanted to do this instead.

In any case, without so much as a stable workbench, there was little chance of doing that now. We'd have to evade the jets rather than shooting them down. I cut power to the rocket, a little early, more on general principles than any real idea of what to do. Never go where the enemy expects you - isn't that the fourth rule of war?

We were high enough now that gliding wasn't really a possiblity; we had to manouver like a satellite, using our very limited jet "puffers". The plus side was that there were many suitable destinations in this orbital region; it was a simple tradeoff, then. We wanted to go somewhere far enough to be unpredictable, while conserving enough gas to be able to make it down far enough to aerobrake for descent. To me, the solution was obvious in an instant - but then I realized, it was the same option you would have chosen, my love. So I changed to one on a trajectory 108 degrees away, and we headed for there.

These satellites are... well, they're unlike anywhere else I've ever been. But that doesn't tell you a lot, not unless you know me a lot better than I'm still hoping you might. So I'll tell you what I can; the difference is the people. They're... hopeful, in a way that people nowhere else are. They feel like they can do anything - perhaps because, within the satellite, they can. It's a shame that none of them wants nothing so much as to get out.

Interesting machinery is extremely valuable, enough so that many of the kids are more than willing to take the chance on a "hot" ride. Pausing only to remove the teleportation gun - we wouldn't want to be seeing that in the wrong hands, oh no - we were able to find a scrawny kid to whom we could trade our buggy for a substantially worse (in terms of practicality) but hopefully legitimately purchased orbital vessel, which would be enough to take us to one of the tower spaceports. And then we were free; you can get to anywhere from there. Even out to the outer planets, if we'd wanted to, or inwards to Mercury orbital station. I'm not going to tell you where our rezvendous point is, because it's really not worth your while at this point to try and get it out of me, and a girl's gotta have a few secrets - wheras an information theorist has gotta have at least a thousand, prefferably two.

So with that we should've been away, except for the unfortunate fact of not having any of the loot with us. Which gave us nothing to trade for passage anywhere, meaning we had no choice of anywhere to go other than Earth, via lift.

I still don't know what it was that tripped it. If there was, indeed, something we did wrong, a mistake in my otherwise flawless plan. Perhaps we underestimated the human factor - one of the workers in the bar, perhaps, took a shine to myself or Angela, and then on seeing us going to take the lift down, thought very fast and put two and two and two together. Implausible, of course, but all the possibilities are. That's the great problem with it all.

In any case, the police were waiting for us at the bottom of the tower. Setting off a fusion detonation - one of the homemades, this time, but thankfully still effective - was honestly the appropriater response, I'll have you know, and it was enough to get away for a while in the confusion. We went to one of the few safehouses I had left on Earth, but it was too hard; there was no route prepared, so it was only a matter of time before the government's top information theorists - I rated the best, I'm pretty confident of that, but I couldn't bear their top guys without preparation - found me. Found us. And so, I did the most productive thing I could think of in the three days I had available.

Well, two things actually. Firstly, I sent the teleportation gun by the best route I had available off to my beloved. I don't have any idea whether it got there - I'd estimate the odds at maybe 60% - but that's why it wasn't in my posession when you found me. It's somewhere, out there, in the criminal underworld, making you nervous.

Angela was unhappy to give it up, but I pointed out to her that it was strong evidence against us, that we couldn't keep it with us and the last thing we wanted was it getting to the law. I'm not sure why I bothered convincing her, given what I was about to do next. Maybe I just wanted to check I still had the skills to manipulate people. Whatever my reasons, I did get her free and full agreement to send the gun away.

And then, a few hours after that was sorted, when I really did have no further duties to attend to, when we were both honestly doing nothing but waiting for the law to find us, and when I was trying to make sense of it all, I decided my best course was to eliminate or confirm one of the suspects.

For a trained professional she was surprisingly easy to overcome. Perhaps she'd become too trusting of me; come to see me as more than a colleague, perhaps even as a friend. But I knew exactly how far mercy was going to get me. A simple kick in the right place while she happened to be bent over, a rapid application of the handcuffs, and then a short scuffle which ended in me pinning her to the floor and then cuffing together her ankles as well, and that was that. We were ready to begin.

First, the clothes. Ah, so much of a woman's comfort lies in her clothes, oh yes. It's wonderful! You can play with her to a beautiful extent; it's so easy to let her believe it's all going to be ok, and then push her down another notch with the slightest of tweaks here, rips there. And then you can do it all over again, each time letting her believe that she's found a chunk of safety, of dignity, and then destroying it. You'd think she'd adapt, after a while, but no, I've never met anyone who could. Well, never tortured anyone who could. Not even a fellow information theorist. Probably not even myself.

So yes, I played with her. I told you before, you can't fake this; you have to learn to take genuine pleasure in it. And I'd learned that several years ago; in fact, I'd gotten rather good at it. Perhaps even too good; I'm not sure whether you could tell me anymore from someone who hald always wanted to do this all their life. But, isn't that just the sign that I was really successful?

There was little in the way of directly available implements to work with, but we had a toolbox, and you can do a lot with a toolbox. I started by constructing a frame - the best approach to most jobs, but doubly so in this case. Make something whose use form is ambiguous, and imagination will do the rest - I'm sure she could think of far worse ways to present herself than I ever could. Certainly far worse than what I actually did.

I started with her mostly upright, but arms out horizontally to the side, and legs spread too far apart for comfort. Not enough for physical pain, but enough to emphasise to her her vulnerability; that, and my total control. The situation would work against her, sapping her strength when she needed it most.

Now a few rounds of questions. Nothing too harsh, all gentle, natural, conversational tone. Let her begin to hope that this is going to be all that you do. Cover all the basics, even the stupid, obvious question - have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed me?

Then, the move to make her a little bit more uncomfortable. But never appearing to have snapped, oh no; in fact it's best to wait until she's given a helpful answer. So that she knows full well this is not your rage or hatred lashing out; it's just you in your calm, reasonable self deciding what has to be done. Now, your typical amatuer would go for the shoes first, but that's the worst mistake you can make. Well, I'm sure there are worse, but I can't think of any right now. Leave the shoes. The shoes can, in fact, be left on throughout the whole thing - you'll notice, if you have any access at all to accurate crime scene data, that Angela died with her shoes on. Shoes seem like they would protect - after all, they're tough, leather or synthetic, solid, comfortable - at least, practical shoes like those in our trade have to wear - efficiency again - are all of those things. But because of that they serve only to emphasise your own vulnerability next to the dependable, unflinching leather - here is your flesh, weak and crumbling and utterly exposed, and while your feet may be safe, the rest of you certainly isn't. So no, leave the shoes, leave them well alone.

The other thing that amatuers, especially men, would do, is go for the top here, probably taking it off quite rapidly. That's a mistake for two reasons; firstly, it shows where your interests lie, and that's not a piece of information you want to let go just yet. You want to leave her guessing about just what exactly you want from her while ensuring she feels entirely insecure; having her know exactly what's coming is less good, reduces its power, gives her the chance to convince herself that she can withstand it. Secondly, it's not actually where she feels at all vulnerable. Oh, she'll act it all right, but ultimately, she can convince herself she's strong and safe - well, as safe as possible under the circumstances. So you want to go closer to the money, but obliquely, making it utterly unclear what you're actually after. And given those constraints, the solution is obvious

You go for the bottom of the trousers.

Now, while that part is beyond dispute, the optimal method is still open to much discussion. I've known those who favour a simple pair of scissors, done with no explanation, as cold and clinically as possible. It adds to your impression of drive and ultimate practicality, but can be too much puzzling rather than scary; the fear just isn't there. So for myself, I use a somewhat flashier approach: a cutting torch. The sound alone makes an impact, and when she see's what you're using there, the screams can get quite dramatic. Of course, you have to be careful as you hold them away from the body enough to cut - but that's the sheer beauty of it, because through the tears and the terror she can't help but notice how careful you're being. Can't help but start to think you won't actually physically harm her. It makes her a little stronger over the next section, but it's well worth it for the boost it gives you when you finally get started on the actual pain.

"Let's try that again, shall we?" Now you can bring out the forcefulness, set lose a little of the anger. Oh, she'll scream and quail and do all the things you'd expect, but you can get around that as easy as anything. Slapping her a bit works well at this point; you force her to compose herself far more quickly than she otherwise would, and the subconscious rushes it; she doesn't have time to release any of it, so it all wells up inside. When she starts answering the questions again you can stop it, return to before, recover the appearance of calmness. And the answers you get are more interesting.

I like to call this the "first fracture" stage of the interrogation. A pro will be revealing nothing, of course, but anyone however well prepared is a little shaken up at this point. That alone won't get you the truth, not by a long shot, but it will get you something that more closely matches their true feelings on an emotional level, and that can be an enormous heget you the truth, not by a long shot, but it will get you something that more closely matches their true feelings on an emotional level, and that can be an enormous help. With people who haven't been trained, you can sometimes infer everything by the time you're through the clothing stage.

Mix it up, that's crucial; you always need to keep the subject off-balance. But the incorporation of randomness into even a perfectly scheduled routine is a well established information-theoretical technique, and I am a good information theorist. The top was in fact the place to go next, but not the whole thing, just one of the arms, part-torn part-cut off with the aid of a knife which I was very careful to also nick her with a little, a gentle taste of things to come, just enough to force her to reconsider slightly her confidence that I wasn't going to actually hurt her. After that, more questioning, and the introduction of a few mild techniques - water, mainly. Water is a good one because it's not actual, direct physical harm; it doesn't seem like you're contradicting your aparrent scruples, it's just that you've found a way around them. And it's not actually too hard to resist, but it weakens you to do so, more in fact than does more direct methods. A lower core body temperature isn't something you really notice, not consciously, but it's something that reduces your efficiency in almost all areas, and the discomfort from wet clothing is again something that affects you a lot more than you might think. Also, the techniques are such that it's easy to manipulate her into drinking a lot of it, without ever appearing like that was the intent, which will be useful for later.

The water session is a questioning session by itself, or at least I've always found that's the most effective way to run things. Questions between dunkings make it seem more like you're trying to get something directly out of her, and mean she's more likely to have her mouth open as she goes under if you do it in the middle of the more obvious lies. Plus there's always the possibility that an extremely inexperienced person would crack under it. But the main reason to do it is a matter of scheduling; this is going to be precisely the point at which contemplation, reflection, and anticipation are going to do her the least good. First, though, we have now to let her know how things are going to be.

Scissors this time, slowly, mechanically, and making no response to anything she does. It's not even worth listening to anything she says at this point; it's as close to information-free sentences you'll ever get coming from a living human. The shirt is removed, tossed aside, though out of her field of vision unless she looks for it - seeing what she's endured thus far would otherwise strengthen her a little. The bra is a tough one to deal with; some will feel quite comfortable without it, but all will feel very secure with it. Relatively speaking, of course; if they're managing to feel very secure in any kind of objective sense, you're doing it very wrong. The solution is to do neither of these; rather, I cut a large square out, carefully, with the scissors, over one of the nipples. This totally undermines any sense of stability and support from the garment, but without granting the relief that removing it entirely would. Again, she can stay like that for most of the session - probably not the entirety, like for shoes, because we'll be wanting to do more with what's lying under it, during the terminal phases. But for now, it's enough.

And now, the masterstroke: we watch, and wait. Saying nothing, doing nothing in response to any cries, or sobs. Just leave her there as she gradually comprehends her position, her helplessness, her utter exposure. And then, just as she's started to perhaps come to terms with that, she notices it.

At first she tries to deny it. Surely, something so mundane cannot be a problem. Her captor is surely not that barbaric. If she raises it, some arrangement will be come to. So she gathers herself, composes her thoughts, calms herself down, and tries ever so gently to teach your attention.

Nothing. Not one piece of human response at all. So she tries again, louder this time, thinking or at least telling herself that it's alright, you just didn't hear. But again, you don't respond. She's shouting now, begging and screaming, cursing you, and you start to come close to what one might call victory.

Abruptly, you look up. Fix her gaze, and ask her a question. Not the most fundamental one, but an awkward one. One where you think she's going to give. Aha, she thinks, this is what it was about. It was cruel of you, excessively harsh, but understandable, you had to push her that far, after all. And it takes a great amount of will on her part - oh, will that Angela had, all right, but that many wouldn't - not to immediately, jubilantly tell you the truth.

Angela did answer immediately, and it was the same answer she'd given previously. This was the first point at which I really began to suspect that she might actually be innocent. Oh, that was good, so good. I relished the prospect, because her innocence would mean I'd never have to stop, because she'd never get to the point where she admitted it, told me what I needed to know, and all that mattered was to kill her.

I sat back, as I had to at this point. Even Angela couldn't prevent a brief flash of despair from crossing her face, but it was there only for a fraction of a secont. Then she set her jaw, look up, and stood as straight as she could within her confines. However, all of that availed her not, as the simple facts of her water consumption and bladder capacity acted to bring her where she did not want to be.

When it happens, you have to be quick. It's crucial not to give her any chance of release. I saw her face fall as she realized what was going, her eyes go dark at her sheer helplessness, her lip twitch, her face about to give, but no. Before the first tear fell, before even the event itself was over, a firm slap to bring her around. And then immediately with the questions, rapid-fire, forcefull, and with varied slaps whenever I didn't like the answers, or if I liked the answers too much, or if she seemed about to give, or for any reason really. The important thing is the impression, she's too incoherent at this stage to actually give you anything useful. But she's hopefully not going to realize that herself, which means she'll be happy to elaborate on the bare facts she thinks you got from this. And even if she does realize that she got away with it this time, it's not enough, because she knows she's broken once, to be saved only by sheer luck, and that you can and will break her again.

No implements, mind; just relatively mild physical violence. Nothing here is trying to injure her, only to keep her focussed on the matter at hand. It's imperative, now, from here until the end of the session, not to give her any time to regain her composure. She'll answer the questions fast, if not then skip them, come back later. Keep up the pressure with the hits, and then gradually lead into heavier violence.

Some form of knife is best at this stage, ideally a decorative one, one that she can see and look at an exquisitely machined blade, and know that you could kill her in a second but you won't, oh no, you'll be very careful not to kill her. Cuts shallow and a bit deeper in the muscly areas, enough that it would actually impair her movement a bit if she was in any position to be moving. The body knows what's real, serious damage, and will waste no time in telling her. Not too much, mind; you don't want to do anything that's going to obviously make her look bad, if she survives. Because that, we're leaving for later. It'll be so much more effective when done all together.

This session ends just as she's about to adapt to it. Watch her eyes - yes, again that's a lie, I mean her face, her hands, her expressions, her movements, all of it. If you're very good, and I am that good, oh yes, you can push her right up until the point where you see the spark of it. She's got gradually used to the idea that you're willing to inflict substantial damage on her, and though you haven't yet done anything that would induce permanent harm, by this time she's almost learnt not to hope that that will last. So she's gathered herself to resist even this; she was throwing out answers she didn't care what the truth of was, and if she managed to keep them all to what she wanted to say, it was by instinct and training rather than conscious judgement. But now the conscious is back in control, she knows what she's doing this time. She's waiting, looking forward, for you to ask the next question, so that she can show her strength by refusing to answer you. Maybe even gathered enough to spit at you, if she's especially brave, since she can't fail to realize what doing so would cost her. She's pinned her hopes, her soul, her very self onto this one admittedly futile act of defiance, to show you at least that though you may defeat her eventually, she's not going to go down without a fight. She's gleaming, ready, waiting for you.

And you stop. Pull back, abruptly; stand to attention, almost as if to salute her. And then you leave, contemptuously passing her some water as you go. If you're especially lucky, she may cry out for you to come back. In those cases, you can probably conclude the interrogation there and then; let her out, get her some fresh clothes, a comfortable room, and just gently ask her everything you need to know. Her spirit will vanish as soon as she realized what she just did.

Angela, needless to say, wasn't one of those cases. She swallowed her phlegm, leant back, as far as she could, and gently sipped at the water. Attempting to kill yourself through dehydration is entirely possible - I've seen women try it - but pointless - as Angela must surely have realized, if she tried anything of the sort it would simply be a matter of forcing the issue on my part. So all she'd have gained was some discomfort, and that's not something she has the nerve, the power, the selfness to deliberately subject herself to that yet. She'll curse herself for this later, and this moment will add to the breaking of her spirit, but right now she is, on quite a strong level, truly grateful for the drink.

Now, we cool the area - if you've timed things right, it should be late evening by now. If you can leave her outside, under the stars, that's even better - she'll scream herself hoarse trying to attract attention, only to realize that no-one, but no-one, will come to save her, and by doing so she's just compromised her ability to rely only on herself. Or, best of all, if you have some accomplices around, they can wander over, raising her spirits to the stratosphere, and then calmly, noncholantly, ignore her words, her cries, her state, while they have their own fun. Nothing too violent, mind - at least in my routine. Some would say a rape at this point is just the thing to break her, and it can be, but if it doesn't work it toughens her up some. Some can actually gain strength from the notion that two different, aparrently uncorrelated entities are attacking them, bizzare as it sounds. So outright rape is, in my book, too much of a risk, but a bit of lighter molestation helps to emphasise the state of things quite nicely. And a little light knifework never goes amiss, nothing too rough though, I want everything closed neatly by morning.

In Angela's case I didn't have those luxuries - but that's all they are, luxuries. All you need is the ability to discreetly cool the room, and that I had. Let her shiver a bit, cry a little, pause to reflect but balk at the sheer hopelessness of it all, and finally collapse into an unstable, troubled sleep. Wake her up after five hours - the worst point in the sleep cycle, and one which gives you the best chance of hitting a dream.

There are multiple schools of thought on how best to exploit the slow awareness that comes from waking at that point of sleep. Some go straight for the interrogation questions, hoping that the grogginess will have eliminated everything that impedes giving a straight answer. It can be enormously effective, but as you'll probably by now have guessed, it is again, too much of a risk for my liking. No, I prefer to use it for cruelty, for putting as much extra strain on her spirit as possible. Soft, gentle, nurselike voice. "Oh, hello, there you are. My, my, you're waking up. Now, stay calm, girl. You've had a terrible time, don't try and think about it too much just yet. Just remember you're safe now, I won't hurt you. Would you like some orange juice?" That last usually gets them; they often get as far as answering in the affirmitive before noticing the incongruity of it all, the frame they're strapped to, the face in front of them, the situation they're in. You don't need an information theorist's skills to be able to see their face fall, the sinking realization, the fall into despair.

Wallowing in despair can be just as effective a release as anything else; you need to be immediate, harsh, and give her something to concentrate on. Rip off the last of her clothes - and I do mean rip, it aids the brutality, and the impact, and with any luck will open up a couple of the wounds - and perhaps give a reminder of the other humiliation of the previous day. Step back, regard her carefully, in this state, let your expression betray only your utter contempt that she was this easy. Gradually she'll recover, realize that she's not quite selfless yet, and start to stare. At this point, it's time to go to the toolbox.

What you've taken now is any external comfort. She knows all sorts of things can be done to her, she knows that nothing she posesses will help her - but she's still got full confidence in herself, her own body, feels - against all the odds - that she's in control of that. It's time to do something about that, which means getting permanent. A lot of a woman's confidence lies in her self-image, her shape - yes, her beauty. So the first thing to attack is that.

There are those who would argue for putting out an eye at this stage, and I used to be one of them. But it's hard to get right, and can occasionally be too severe - it pushes them over the edge, to where it's hard to get anything coherent out of them, and too easy to get the truth once you do. That's not a fun job, and like I said, I've learned to enjoy doing this a lot. So nowadays what I'll do at this point is to go for the pliers.

Fast but deliberate steps up to her. Firm hand, grabbing the mouth, stopping her screams, forcing it open. You see the sheer terror in her eyes as she wonders at what you're going to do, realizes all too soon, and recoils from the possibility.

Pliers in the mouth, and grab for a tooth. Doesn't matter which tooth, or whether there's more than one, but try to avoid the tounge, it makes it too hard for her to speak if it's ripped. Then just apply pressure, maybe twist a little. At this stage it doesn't really matter precisely what you do, it's just to get her to realize you're doing it. Later on, towards the end, you'll carefully remove each tooth in turn, but there's no need to be methodical at this stage. Brutality is more important.

Ask a couple of questions, but you won't get any answers at this stage, only incoherent objections, screams, and disbelief that you're actually willing to do this to her. Give it a few seconds and then move in again, break some more teeth. After the third set she's probably on the verge of tears, so mix it up with perhaps a firm hair-yank, or something else that keeps her too concentrated to break down. Breaking her nose is quite effective at this point too, it rams home the point that her face is going to be a mess for the remains of her life, while also crunching things around a bit more in her mouth if you hit right. In Angela's case I went for both, holding her head back by the hair while I came in with my other hand with its fist filled with metal. She seemed more upsettable than most, still close to crying, but I know how to deal with that case.

Normally I'd save this for later, but time to put the iron on. Start with it slightly warm, enough that she realizes immediately what it is and what it does, but not enough to feel anything remotely resembling pain. But, at once all too quickly and agonizingly slowly, she can feel it getting hotter; feel what it's going to do to her once it really gets going. It focusses the mind quite wonderfully.

Mission accomplished at that point; take it off before she really feels anything. It only adds to the terror, knowing what's coming, and she's now fully conscious and coherent. Which makes it time for some questions; she's not going to be honest, of course, but she is going to start to realize and accept how this is going to go. The risk of further breakdowns is pretty slim.

So, you can proceed as before; break her teeth and ask her questions. Then start on fingernails, after than fingers, and finally the hands themselves. When you're both bored of that - it's ok, this time, to let her get bored, let her think she's used to it. Then, for the last pieces of data, bring back the iron.

Iron goes into the vagina, and switch it gently on. Listen very carefully to her this time, because this is the last piece of information you will get while she thinks there still might be a chance of her living through this. It doesn't guarantee the truth, but it gives you the last datapoint you need to be sure of what the truth is, if you weren't already - at least, it does if you're as good as me.

After that it's a simple matter of ironing her to death, which was what I spent my last day before your brave boys in blue found me doing to Angela. The main concern here is to keep her overall body temperature low enough, so give her lots of water - ice even, sometimes. She probably won't be up to eating solid food at this stage, so try something with nutrients in as well, enough sugar at the least to keep her conscious - fruit juice, perhaps, but that can be too comforting, sugar water is probably better. Start with the fingertips and the places you removed the fingernails from - they're actually the most sensitive, and on later things she's not going to realize she's feeling it less. Slowly, perhaps ten minutes at a time, you burn off from the bottom of her arms, working your way up to close to the shoulders. The iron isn't hot enough to get rid of the bone, so you should switch between it and the blowtorch from time to time; careful not to get too many nerves with the blowtorch, though, it severely limits the amount of pain you can put her through. If you did need just a little more data to rule out any outside hypotheses, you could get it at this stage, but mostly it's just for your own enjoyment; consider it a break after some hard work well done. It's quite relaxing once you get into it; I found myself singing, after a while.

So, in such a state I was when the police burst into the building. I put my hands up as ordered, leaving the iron in position; one thing you won't find in either the official nor the officially unofficial reports is that Angela was actually still alive when the police came in. The captain took one look at her before shooting her in the face, a piece of police brutality that somehow went by without any objections from the remainder of the squad.

The rest, as they say, is history, but I'll write a little about it for completeness; I was cuffed hand and foot, slapped around a little but not enough to be worth fussing over, then bundled into the van for transport. At precinct HQ I was transferred directly to a Vulture which brought me here, to an island I'm not even sure of the name of, where came I to write this letter.

And so, then, with my thoughts hereby in order, we must turn to the most pressing matter of all - the question of what, exactly, went wrong. And so, alas, it is here that I can no longer put off making the accusation, the statement that it pains me so much to make, but which nevertheless I will have to, for with my thoughts at an unsurpassed level of clarity on the subject, it becomes clear to me that there is really only one, dark and terrible and dire, one possibility.

It was you, wasn't it, my love? It was you who betrayed us.

What can they have offered you, I wonder. What more could you possibly want, what more could you possibly get, than we would have had, together, with the quantum computer, and with it the power to get anything - well, within reason - that we wanted. We could have been rich, powerful, influential, giving out venture capital funding of our own to promising young operatives, and of course, we would always have the fact that we had carried out the greatest crime of all time. So what was it, I wonder, that made you change your mind? Did you feel some sense of loyalty to our dearest government? It doesn't seem likely, but nothing I can think of seems very likely, and nationalism can be found in the rarest of places - you know that as well as I do. Perhaps you secretly love and respect our great Empire, perhaps you found it sacrelige to claim, as I do, and with the truth on my side, no less, that the Empire that we speak so highly of was founded a mere 500 years ago, against the will of the people, using mighty weapons rather than any grand social principles. Perhaps, implausible as it may seem, you were seduced by one of their agents, chose her or him over me, will do anyone to please the one you love, even as I would do anything to please you, my dear, oh yes. That being the case, perhaps I should roll over, as it were. Stay here, imprisoned, if that was after all your intent. But no, my love, oh no, if that's what you'd wanted, surely you could have told me so. As it stands, I shall act the only way I know how, the way I have to belive you would want me to, and try and get out. Try with all my might, succeed if I can, die if I can't. And then, when I do get out, I will, my dearest, my beloved, my one, my only, I will hunt you down, and I will kill you, slowly, far more painfully than I did Angela or anyone else, and with the greatest degree of effort of my entire life.

Now, you scumbags who are reading this, come down here and let me out.


The man looked up from the letter and sucked in his breath. Of course, he'd only read the bowdlerized version; stripped of all the little psychological cues, the information theorist's tricks of trade, of which I'd poured all I had into that letter, parts of it, particularly the conclusion, must have seemed faintly ridiculous. But evidently it had still had quite an impact on him, for he sat back, sighed, and it was some time before he met my gaze.

"Vicious, aren't we?" he asked at last. I eyed him carefully. I did, after all, want something from him, so it would pay to be a little considerate. But I didn't think he wanted anything but the truth, and wasn't sure I could find the inspiration to compose anything anymore. My whole life since writing this had been lived under a shadow, chasing half-imagined ghosts, applying my skills on autopilot, barely enough to keep me alive. How I got out of there in this state I can hardly imagine, though from the hints of memory that I retain, I think it must have mostly gone as I said it would.

The true information theorist succeeds by changing herself. Well, I certainly managed that. That was the problem I was here to see him about, after all. But I'd also changed others somewhat; cheating perhaps, but I'm allowed to. It's almost exactly my job, in fact. The letter was written not to my nonexistent love, but for the guards themselves, containing enough triggers to get me started on my escape. I really did render down the drugs, too; construction materials ain't what they used to be, and you'd be surprised how many useful catalysts there are in the human body. When the two guards came to my cell I killed the first instantly with a twist of the neck, knocked out the second, discovered that the guns were locked, and used that metabolic-boosted leap to take down the third guard out in the corridor. There was another guard in the corridor too, the fourth man, the one I hadn't counted on - ah well, can't expect efficiency from a government organization after all. He was too shocked to do anything, and in the time it took him to bring his weapon shakily up I was upon him, with a roar. I killed him, more out of frustration than anything else - dammit man, you shouldn't have even existed - and then took off carefully down towards the control room I'd seen on my way in. I couldn't goof out the automatics forever, the alarm would probably be raised by the time I got to the last one, down by the boat, but if I couldn't beat one man then I deserved to die. I got into the control room by the oldest trick in the book, claiming to have brought drinks - to be fair, there's no way it would have worked without the preparations I'd made with the letter. But nonetheless, I killed those two, and finally a stroke of luck in my favour - one of them had a personal sidearm that wasn't coded. With that in hand - and verifying from the duty roster that there really was only one other man around - I set off the alarm myself, trusting my instinct rather than conscious calculation which said that there was no way he'd try to contact the mainland himself, not when the alarm had been raised by the control centre people whose job that was, who would certainly have called them in at the same time. In fact he was so amatuerish as to make it distinctly boring - running straight to my cell rather than following established protocol. I shot him in the back of the head to spare him the experience of realizing how incredibly stupid he had been. Then it was out, away, down to the boat, and with it heading directly for the centre of the west coast of France - I'd lied a little in my letter, you see, I knew exactly where we were. The public trusted their government - hah - so even though I'd been in the news pretty much continuously since the job, none of them thought to associate that with a face walking past in the street. After all, I was in prison.

By the time they realized I'd escaped I was on my way back up the Africa tower, appearance and demeanor changed beyond all recognition by my last remaining good contact in Europe. By the time they'd found and killed him - my fault, perhaps, well, definitely, but I'd paid him more than enough over the years for the risks he took - I was halfway to Mars. By the time they'd stopped looking for me - well, they haven't stopped looking for me yet, at least not officially. I'm still top of the Imperial most wanted list, the bounty on my head is high enough that I've considered turning myself in for it, but my trail is not so much cold as cut up into a thousand tiny frozen pieces - I've made very sure of that. Letting somebody take it up again from here was an unpleasant notion, but I had no choice - I couldn't stand living like this any longer. And I'd chosen the best place to reappear, out in the asteroids, where the response time of law enforcement if they come at all - oh, they'd come for me, but that'd be the first time in living memory someone reported a crime and saw anything come of it - are measured in days, even for someone as high-profile as myself. The doctor opposite me here knew his life was probably forfeit either way, but their profession has a strange code of honour - I could trust him to treat me to the best of his ability, provided I could pay his price, mind - and he wouldn't be above tripling it for someone in my state of affairs, oh no. But he wouldn't call in the police to take me in from the operating table, or sedate me himself until they arrived - no, he would wait until I'd walked out of his door before calling him. And so, for my part, I wouldn't kill him - and nor would the imperial officers, if they had any sense. Which had been lacking of late in the pursuit of me, but one criminal - even one as accomplished as myself - isn't worth disturbing that centuries-old truce. If they killed him - and there was little doubt in my mind that they would, but he must have known this was a possibility, and professional pride would prevent him doing anything other than taking his chances - the profession would close ranks against them, quietly, doing nothing overtly untoward, but gathering their strength against them. Doctors are trusted by their patients, they had to be, and it would be subtle, but it would be there - a little less effort for Imperial officers, a little more looking the other way for the criminal elements, and who knows, in a hundred years they might have a full scale rebellion on their hands, with no idea where it had come from. That'd be a nice change, a good effort. Six hundred years is more than long enough for a single governmental system to last, no matter what the official imperial histories have to say on the subject.

I shrugged at him. "Can you really say I'm wrong?" He shook his head gently, non-confrontationally, but maintaining that he still disagreed. Professional to the last - he wouldn't disturb our relationship with an actual argument, but he wouldn't lie to me either. I found myself starting to like him a lot.

"And do you feel the same way now?" he asked, idly it seemed, but my senses were already beginning to tingle. There was something too natural, too casual about the question - oh, nothing that would have shown up on a computer chart, I'm sure. In fact, the deviation from normal was probably perfect, at every level - and that's what triggered my instincts. I'm good, too good, at my profession; probably the best there is, to be honest. Certainly I'm far above Kev, and while there's some up and coming competition around Venus, none of them have accomplished anything like what I pulled up. Perhaps I'm the best there ever will be; certainly I'm the best there ever has been. But even I can't do miracles. I couldn't sense exactly what it was he was after; I had nothing to do but tell the truth, and thereby draw him out. So I answered him honestly, told him that little part of the story.

In my efforts to find out what went wrong, I used every remaining contact I have. I asked around all those who know, tried to find out everything I could about my beloved, and about our mission; about what he'd done, about who was involved. Despairing of ever succeeding, I was in a bar one night when a stroke of sheer luck gave me the solution my years of work had not uncovered. Hank - actually Thomas de Bres, who you may even have heard of from his reputation as a legitimate programmer - tried to kill me.

I don't think it was in any way planned - either that, or he did a pathetic job of it. It was just that he happened to see me there drinking, in one of his favourite haunts, doing exactly what he was - trying to drown my sorrows, forget the memory of that job. Of what had happened then. Only with him it was for a slightly different reason.

Once I'd relieved him of the laser pistol he'd been failing to draw from his trouser pocket, everything suddenly clarified. Of course, I tortured him to death to get all the details, just to be sure, but I realized the essence of it in that moment. Hank had sold us all out, not for his own sake, but for Angela's.

Strange are the ways of the heart, I guess. I used that fact to my advantage in the letter, after all - I was able to write entirely ridiculous things that nevertheless seemed totally reasonable for one in my position. But still, that a man would fall so deeply, so devotedly in love over half an hour and one drink seems to stretch credibility. But it's true, oh yes. I assure you, I confirmed it very carefully. After leaving the bar, "Hank" went home and devoted most of his energy to tracking down Angela - her name, her record, her life. Turns out it's quite a heart-wrenching story, well, if you like that sort of thing. In any case, Hank, in his fit of sorrowful devotion, amid the tears and - sorry, I'm being too cynical, but it's hard not to be given the consequences for myself. At any rate, with the woman he's convinced he loves in there, suddenly the equation changes. A 20% chance of success isn't anywhere near good enough - nor in fact is 38%, which he told me later was the number he was working off. And the money he's earning, even his precious reputation, is essentially irrelevant. So he goes to the authorities, negotiates with them, gets a deal before he gives them the details - at least he still has that much sense - and then tells them what's going on. Plan is that the police will do everything they can to take us alive, Hank will give them the information they need, and in return Angela walks, and Hank himself pays a small fine for his part in everything. Of course, if she's shot while resisting arrest then that's too bad, but he know's we're all professionals, we don't fight battles we can't win. If the options are between the police taking us alive and a lot of people dying, us included, chances are we'd take the first option. Or so he thought, acting on his incomplete information.

And therein lies the problem. Need to know, after all. Hank only knew that this was a robbery job, which to him meant - entirely reasonably - it had a good chance of being bloodless, which meant the police would be more than happy to capture us and we would be reasonably happy to come quietly. Oh, we'd be facing a matter of decades inside, but any fool can see that's better than dying. Not only was it in fact violent, but Hank was also entirely unaware that we'd be resisting arrest using a gun that shoots nuclear warheads through all known forms of shielding.

As far as I know Hank never learnt those two details - or rather, if he learnt them at all he did so long after they had been relevant. But he could see from his position, even without information theory, but with, perhaps, his "common sense", how things were going. Which was why he switched tracks, put all his efforts into sincerely helping us escape, and got us into orbit past the police efforts. After all, he'd never agreed with them not to help us; quite the contrary, when they'd heard I was involved, they'd instructed him firmly to not try and sabotage the job in any way. They were scared of me, you know, scared of my abilities - and rightly so, if Hank had in any way tried to stop us I'd have known about it. So he put in his very best, but by that stage it was too late; yes, with his help we got away in the immediate, but he'd given the law enforcement too much information by that stage.

He'd never told Angela any of what he was doing, which was why I'd never realized it. Perhaps he'd thought that if she knew nothing she'd be safe from what actually happened; perhaps he was naive enough to think that I might not realize we had been betrayed at all. Foolish, but he was desparate at that stage. The police kept their bargain as far as it went; he was eventually arrested, and paid a small fine. But of course there was nothing to be done for Angela, not after I'd finished with her. Heh heh heh. I'd thought that I was perfectly happy, comfortable with the fact that I'd tortured to death a completely innocent woman, but I was wrong. It felt so good to know that the little bitch had earnt it, well, or someone had earnt it for her. Perhaps this was still unfair to her; it wasn't her fault Hank had responded in that way, after all. But we all bear responsibility for what happens to us, whatever our intentions and our role in causing it. Because fundamentally, every action has its consequences, obscure and unpredictable as they will be. If you don't like it, take up information theory so that you can learn to control what you were causing. I'd never inspire that kind of devotion in someone I didn't want to, because I know what I'm doing.

Well, that is essentially the story. There are the pointless details of course, the mechanics of the torture, the locations, the people and places, the others who were periphially responsible and upon whom I exacted my vengeance in due course. But that's all essentially boring detail, and I didn't feel like telling it all to him. In fact, every nerve in my body was screaming at me not to tell him anything, to get away from him as soon as possible. There was something very wrong about everything he was saying.

Still, I crushed those feelings as I listened and watched for his response. He seemed satisfied, but also something else - joyful? Even ecstatic? But he clamped down on it hard, faster than I've ever seen anyone else manage it; I'm not sure if anyone else would have seen anything at all. But now I had, I thought, the measure of him. A part of me leapt to the conclusion he wanted, but as always the more rational areas prevailled, and I kept quiet until he said something. It didn't take long.

He smiled, a little too perfectly. "So, what can I do for you, then?" Again, unfortunately, I didn't have quite as much data as I needed, and my only path to acquiring more was the truth. So the truth it was, once more, for good or ill.

You can see, I hope, that the letter is not remotely close to being true. Aside from that, it's not remotely close to being honest, either. First of all, of course that wasn't how they were keeping me, and it lasted a lot longer than three days. But the times and cell details I gave there provided a simple encoding of the real data, enough to let me keep track of what was going on. The main problem, you see, or at least the initial one, was that the drugs and interrogation techniques were interfering with my memory. I'm sure you can see the evidence of this, amply clear in the letter itself; at the start it's rambling and incoherent. Yes, I appreciate that it, and indeed I, am rambling and incoherent at the best of times, but this is especially true of the early part of the letter. I made up details left right and center, you can see I'm sure the inconsistencies evident in a lot of what I was doing, but then the inconsistencies themselves did not serve as evidence that I was in fact lying, because the very purpose of a lot of what they were doing was to shake up my memory, force me to recall only fragments, so that I would tell them these fragments truthfully (having no idea what else to do with them) and then they could reassemble them themselves. So they instead began to trust me a little, and so when I inserted the hints about a weapon more powerful than anything previously imagined, while common sense would tell them to ignore it, their own very rationality convinced them there could be something to it - after all, their techniques were perfect, so why would I lie to them? So they began doing the only thing they could, since the idea was too far outside their own experience for them to be able to assemble it from my memory fragments; they reduced the dosages, and let me start writing with a clearer head. Of course, I had to fabricate something quite quickly at this point, but I am an information theorist, after all. And I really had been a librarian.

So I mixed in just the right amount of truth to my fantasy; what I said about the 3% edge was correct, and what I said about needing it doubly so. There really was a period of unrest at that point in history, and there are even those who allege that the founding of the empire happened as I presented it - not many, mind, but more than enough that there's literature on it. And no, you won't get killed for trying to look it up; there is no cabal, no big conspiracy, the library does not (as far as I know) kill you for reading the wrong books. Certainly, I was never ordered to do so. Quantum mechanics is real, as far as it goes; it was a genuine historical attempt to understand the basic rules of the universe, and in fact was remarkably successful for its time. The nondeterminism I described - inadequately, I am sure, but it's truly incomprehensible to the modern mind, unfortunately - was a genuine effort at interpreting the results, and there were even those, impossible as it may seem to believe, who attempted to claim that we should regard it as being objectively true: that the universe was nondeterministic, ran on nondeterminism, contained nondeterminism not merely in humans with their supposed "free will" but in every individual subatomic particle.

Both the teleportation gun and the quantum computer are genuine, at least in part. They were theorised possibilities under this quantum mechanics, used as examples of the bizzare phenomena that were made possible by these interpretations of reality, often by opponents of the theory who were trying to discredit it. They largely failed, however, for the most part because no other alternative - prior to our grand physical synthesis of five hundred and fifty years ago - came anywhere near to being as accurate in its prediction and matching of experimental results. As far as I know neither were ever actually constructed, at least in the form seen here; the story of a hidden enclave of scientists working near Switzerland using the old theory because for political reasons they were unaware of the new was a complete fabrication. Efforts to construct an actual working quantum computer were made for centuries, but never got to the stage of practical utility. They faced constant problems with "decoherence" phenomena - where the supposedly nondeterministic quantum theoretical objects interfaced with and became more natural, real, deterministic objects.

I have in fact, in the free time that I have had a surfeit of since the time of writing that letter, managed to perform the derivation of quantum mechanics as a limiting case of the true physical theory. The proof is immensely involved and unsurprisingly bizzare; the limit one needs to take is in a counterintuitive direction, and the probabilistic interpretation arises by approximating the discrete Boston levels of the particles in question with a continuous distribution. In itself this is not an especially counterintuitive thing to do, but one also has to then consider the limit as the particles themselves tend to points - which is obviously nonsensical on the surface, in that the Boston levels are not defined for a single spatial point, but it nevertheless produces a (mostly) consistent theory with a surprisingly large range of predictive power. I was surprised to find that this had not been done before, but my librarianly experience suggests so; were I not a wanted criminal, I would like to publish a paper on the subject. It would probably only serve as a footnote in the history of science these days, and there are precious few journals of that - given the complete physical synthesis we now enjoy, what use is there in knowing how it was come upon? There's no need to look at previous theories and see what their mistakes were and how to avoid them, because we are never again going to have to consider a fresh theory and decide whether or not it is true. Strictly speaking, that's not so; it is possible someone might come up with an equivalent formulation of the physical synthesis which is easier for performing certain calculations with, and in that case it would be necessary to verify whether it was in fact correct, and it might on occasion be useful to do so independently of demonstrating whether it did in fact correspond directly to the true theory. But that's such a rare case that it cannot justify the existence of more than a handful of journals and professorships devoted to it; usually, it is far easier to determine whether or not a new possible theory is in fact a rephrasing or simplifying limit of the true physical synthesis than to determine whether or not it is a valid theory considered in its own right. This quantum mechanics would, I suspect, be a grand exception, but sadly it would almost certainly be instantly rejected by anyone working in the field on grounds of its nonsensical surface appearance. It's a shame; unlike in the histories I read and enjoyed so much of, where scientists were constantly in search of the new and exciting, because new theories offered the genuine prospect of actual, palpable, measurable improvement over the old, today's scientists are more like engineers. If it isn't there favourite formulation of the physical synthesis, they're not interested. I'll wager very few would bother with something so vulgar as an actual experiment to determine whether or not a new, suggested theory which differed from the known mainline physical synthesis only on some bizzare corner case was correct - they'd just declare it to be wrong since it wasn't a reinterpretation of the true theory, despite the fact that we only believe it true based on experimental evidence. I once went to our archives of experimental journals, that is, journals which publish direct experimental results. I say journals plural, but for the past three hundred years, once comprehensive experimental verification of the physical synthesis was considered accomplished by those in the fields, there has only been one such journal; the venerable Science.

I even took it upon myself to read the latest issue. It was surprisingly interesting - no, it was positively fascinating. There are still, in the ancient established universities of Europe, and even in a few of the more modern trendy institutions - hell, there's even one guy doing a lot of good work at a hundred year old technical college out on Gannymede - there are still experimentalists out there, a dying breed perhaps, but not all done for yet. And, unlike those independent film producers trying to recapture the spirit of an era that was over dozens of generations before they were born, and generally failing miserably at it, these people are doing genuinely good science - a little stunted, perhaps, and obviously the lack of adequate funding impacts on the range of potential experiments which can be performed. But even taking that into account, they can still do the myriad things which were impossible even a hundred or two hundred years ago which are commonplace now, and use them to test the physical synthesis in new and exciting situations. For example, you will know that the solar orbitting station was only completed a scant fifty years ago, and means we have a permanently established base more than a hundred times closer to the sun - at least for a suitable definition of the sun's surface, the boundary of which is rather vague, but I'm lecturing again. I don't mean to, honest, it's just that when explaining science to those potentially unfamiliar with it one naturally tends to assume a certain tone. Oh gosh, that was a rather halfhearted apology, was it not? I suppose my heart wasn't in it; truly, I'm enjoying the lecturing. In another life, in another time, in that history of movies and gangsters and rock music and politics of which I like to talk so much, I would perhaps have been a university professor. Ah, the notion is unfamiliar; you'd think of such people as teachers, but in truth they were much more than that. For while a certain part of their lives were devoted to teaching the next generation - and it was a well respected and vital part of the career, for the education of the young was after all essential to the progress of science - the greater part was devoted to inventing the new science! Well, inventing is an unrepresentative term; it sounds as though they had the freedom to invent it as they saw fit. And while that was to a limited extent true, in certain areas and of certain people - those who were respected in particular could, if they wished, pretty much determine entirely how their students and indeed the rest of the entire scientific community interpreted a certain result, and thus set the course of that particular field for maybe as much as a decade - but only that, unless they were very well respected and the field was relatively new. You see, the work of science was - and, to the limited extent that it is still being practiced at all - is, unique, in that it is determined by the objective external reality which, though unknown in precisely what it does - after all, if we knew what the reality was then there would be no need to resort to science - does in fact entirely determine the course of the discipline. At least in the long term, the large scale statistical sense, where individual differences, individual humans, and those kind of differences are all smoothed out. Science traces - with little, personal bumps all over the place, but the long term picture is one of a smooth, increasing curve, reaching ever towards the truth.

Of course, it had to end somewhere - though there were those who predicted that we would never know the ultimate physical laws, only a series of asymptotically closer approximations - but thankfully, such fatalism was proved conclusively wrong with our grand physical synthesis of five hundred and fifty years ago. But, again the irony, that greatest achievement of science was what brought about its downfall. For with the ultimate laws of the universe discovered - and so everyone believed, at least after long enough. It wasn't instant, by the way - oh, not by any means. The journals from that period are a fascinating read, especially the varying attitudes of the people involved, and all the more so when you know their ages and the relationships between them. The two bitter rivals who nevertheless through some twist of fate - or possibly, in hindsight, it was just the superiority of their intellects - meant were for a period of several years the only truly staunch supporters of the new theory, as the community as a whole greated it, and quite correctly, with great scepticism. You might be surprised to hear me say that that was quite correct, but indeed it was; they had a well established theory, a series of well established theories even, which though acknowledgedly incomplete and contradictory in a few small corner places, had been verified by experiment to an accuracy which was truly astonishing. Meanwhile there had been, in the preceding decade alone, twenty seven experimental theories each with approximately the same experimental support and surface plausibility as the true theory had at the time of its publication. So while it may seem astonishing to us now - that they saw the true theory of the universe right in front of them but did not accept it - for people who had been living all their lives with incomplete, inaccurate theories, and whose only tool for testing them was the direct, effective but oh so slow process of direct experimental verification - oh yes. Many of these candidate theories only displayed differences at energies far greater than we see even in space travel or fusion chambers. So to test them, to be able to calculate the differences between them and then compare with reality to see which was the truer - oh yes, they had no idea of the true theory as absolute truth the way we do now - after all, why would they? All the theories they had ever used, the science they were working with all their lives, contained not truth but only approximations to it. So why should they expect any new, upcoming theory to be any different? The question which was relevant was not "is it true?" There is no sense in which they even considered that question - after all, without knowledge of the true theory, it's impossible to test - all you can do is perform some large but finite number of experiments, verify it in many but by no means all situations, and in fact, and this is a point I shall want to return to later, that is as a matter of fact all we have done for our own present so-called "true" theory. But more of that later, for now - ah, where was I? Oh yes, the question; the question was not "is it true", which was impossible, at a basic, philosophical level, to actually assess, but rather "is it truer than its rivals?" So they had, ironically, a far more stringent approach to testing the theories; where nowadays we settle for equivalence or otherwise with the true theory, here the matter of question was to find one point, only that, at which the theories differed - if it was an equivalence, these were generally not even considered, unless it made some of the calculations substantially easier. But with a mere one point where they differed, that then became the sole criterion for deciding which of the two to keep and which to discard - an experiment would be constructed, and it was always possible to construct one, after all, the predictions of these theories were always matters which could be tested by experiment. If it was not predicting reality, that which we could ourselves test by our own efforts, even if only at great expense and with much time and difficulty, then what was it? Certainly not science, was the view, and it's one I have come to share after reading enough of these journals. It's a remarkable and interesting way of approaching things - while the theories are all known not to be completely true, because they disagree with each other in the places where they overlap, or some of them at any rate, they are each taken as gospel - well, not entirely, but almost - unless and until one can divise an experiment to distinguish between the two. And yet as soon as an experiment is performed and has an outcome which is different from one of the two - as it necessarily must be, for the results the two predict are distinct, that was the whole point of the experiment - it becomes worthless, discarded, barely even talked about except as a historical example.

This came to a head in the case of quantum mechanics, where almost simultaneous examples "proved" that it was both truer and less true than its primary alternative. For a while the scientific groupings were essentially paralyzed; how could this be? This was not a situation they had had to deal with before. For several decades the two theories were treated almost as though they covered different universes; improvements were made to each, challenges arose, but neither were ever related to each other except in a series of increasingly desparate futile attempts to unify them.

Eventually, the realization that they would not be unified sunk in, and as it became increasingly clear that there was no common successor on the horizon, no wonder theory that would produce the successful results of both while leaving their respective failure points correct, a shift occurred, had to occur really. The present approach was unsustainable, there weren't enough journals around to support discussion of two mainline competing physical theories, and more than that, there simply wasn't the staff to pursue both to the extent that they needed to be. Universities appealed to their governments, and had the political will been there, this could all have been resolved with science continuing more or less in the way it had done for centuries before. But the political will was not there; the governments saw this as an irrelevant academic dispute, outside their purview, and refused to allocate their precious funds to something that they felt the voters - ah, voters. Remind me to talk to you about voters. No, in fact I'll talk to you about voters right now; voters. This was the primary feature of democracy - or representative democracy, as a few unsociable pedants felt obliged to point out every time the subject was discussed, and did so at great length, let me assure you, oh, some historical people can be incredibly tiresome, more tiresome than we would think possible in this enlightened day and age. But in any case, this democracy, or all right, representative democracy. No, on second thoughts, I do want to talk about it as democracy, because that's what the people thought of it as, most of them, and that was really what mattered.

So, yes, democracy. "Government of the people, by the people, for the people", or so it was characterized as in one of these historical quotes that I love so much. And that was the plan, the original intent, and for a time it actually worked like that.

The basic idea was that the people of a certain area - the nation in question being divided up into these regions, like a few villages, or one area of a town - would come togever, a set number of years apart, and elect - that is, choose - someone to represent their region on political matters. This was done by means of voting, initially a simple majority method but in time other, more fair and representative procedures began to come into play - though they took far longer than they should have to become an option, but that's an issue I don't want to digress into now, not when I'm already in the middle of a digression. Perhaps later, if I remember. In any case, and by whatever method, the public - the general public, excluding of course whatever groups were currently being oppressed at the time - ah, oppression, they really knew what oppression was, back in history, they did. And they knew how to do it effectively, oh yes. In order, then, in which the oppression eventually stopped: those of different race, oh yes, bizzare it may seem but it was quite a common way of doing it. And it makes sense if you think about it - what do we fear after all but the unknown, and in the years where transportation was slow and inefficient and expensive, people of other races from your own were generally unknown. So you feared them, and that fear could be exploited into making you think of them as - well, subhuman, in the most crude but effective form. And so it was common for them to be denied their votes, the representatives decided by those who looked native to the country - hah, yes, those notions were real at the time, but again, another digression.

Then women, presumed for too long that their obvious adaptation to baby making was enough to disqualify them from all other areas of life. A reasonable assumption in the early stages, but becoming flawed as technology rose up. When the number of babies needed to guarantee a fixed number of successful descendents shrunk, other considerations began to arise; with technology getting to the point where people had free time - oh yes, this wasn't always so, for much of human history the average person would spend most of their life, most of their daily labour, on just surviving - everything shifted. Women became able to take an interest in other matters, and in fact showed themselves to be very adept at it. And so, eventually, but again, far later than they should have, gained the same measure of control over their country's government as the men. Finally, and again, far later than they should have, the young, often given very little respect. Oh yes, few would have considered employing e.g. Hank for real work at his age, back in history. No, he would be seen as belonging in education, and that's in the more enlightened countries; in the less so, while his physical strength would be respected, all that would mean would be that all that he was considered fit for was basic, direct physical labour. It was only with the advent of anonymous communication systems - made possible by these very impossible quantum effects about which I have talked so much - that the young were able to stand up for themselves, demonstrate their abilities, and thus finally win the respect of the nation.

Odd, isn't it, that in the perfect governmental knowledge, everyone under surveillance, all information generally known, anonymous communication impossible age we have today, we haven't reverted to previous historical norms. I guess the cat was out of the bag, so to speak - ah, another incomprehensible historical reference, but you will forgive me now, close as we are to the end of my account at this point. Oh yes, I can sense the end drawing near, but as I do I somehow mysteriously feel the need to expand it somewhat. Hence the various digressions, the pointless detail, and finally, this recursive self-analytical thought which I am now pursuing. I am perfectly aware that this line of thinking is pointless, trivial, for after all, whatever it is that is manipulating me can manipulate these processes as well. But in fact that makes it far more amenable to my efforts, because I can detect it; all the input variables are known, in this case. Where I wouldn't know whether I was thinking wrongly in responding to a certain sensory phenomenon, because having never experienced the precise same sensorim before there would be various inputs that I could not take into account, would have no idea what their "normal" effect on me was. Wheras I know full well, having done so several times before, what my thought processes should look like when I'm thinking about examining my own thought processes, concentrating almost exclusively on that. Know, hopefully, this better than anyone else, whoever it could be who is attempting to manipulate me here. Ah, there you are. What are you doing, I wonder - and there I have you, for I shouldn't be wondering. You see, you clearly want my thoughts to be going somewhere, doing something, wheras I am quite happy to let them rest. Here, see, blank. No, you don't like that, goodness you don't. My you're impatient. So then that leads me to my next essential question: why? Why are you doing this, why are you doing this to me? What is it that you want from me? If you'll show yourself to me I'm open to negotiation. I must have something you want, otherwise you wouldn't do this; not to me, not unless your only goal is my defeat. But to defeat me by attacking me while I'm unawares is a coward's option, not one that someone hoping to grow a reputation to rival or even ovecome my own would choose. No, if that is what you wish, you would be best to face me face to face, in a formal, declared duel of our information-theoretical talents. Who knows, you might even win. If you truly think yourself worthy of the title you're going for, if you think you actually are a better information theorist than I am, then surely that would be what you had to do.

Ah, just a little longer, keep reading my thoughts, you miserable bastard, oh yes. Perhaps at this point I should be executing a sexual fantasy to draw you in - oh, yes, I know you're a male. It comes in through your thoughts, your tweaks even. I can smell the maleness coming off you, you miserable bastard, oh dear, I'm repeating my own insults, that's never good. Hah, I see that was you as well, seeking to undermine my confidence in thinking that I had run out of ways to attack you, or perhaps only because you couldn't bear to have my full furious creativity unleashed on you. Very well, no more insults, or at least, nothing that you can see coming. Which mostly means nothing that I can see coming, because I'm assuming you can see everything that I see, unless I manage to triple-think or something of the sort. Ah, yet again you won't get the historical allusion, or maybe you will, in your case. After all, you evidently have power, you have full access to everything I can see, and that means you must surely have been able to acccess the same library volumes that I did. Oh, whether you've read them is another matter of course; unless you are a god - and I have no means of combatting you if that is so, pretty much by definition, so with the ultimate practicality stemming from my life and career choice, I shall ignore the possibility and concentrate solely on my actions in the case where you are not - you also have only a finite, if admittedly huge, capacity for information processing. Which means there will be things I know that you don't, oh yes, important things. Enough that I am not without the chance of defeating you. Because even though you control my thoughts, and hence, can even control my actions, you don't like to too much. I can see that in my thought process so far; while you will push me in the right direction if what I'm doing isn't to your liking, you're perfectly happy to let me ramble on like this. Which means that all I need to do is continue to ramble, while I figure out what exactly I'm going to do to you.

Oh, you don't like that, you don't like that one bit. No, you want me to stay vaguely on the subject, by which I mean, you want me to stay precisely on the subject, but you'll settle for vaguely. And the subject in question is, after all, yourself. So ok, I'll try and construct a profile of me. But it won't be pleasant, I'm sure; no-one likes to hear what someone else really thinks of them, and I haven't the spare capacity to be nice to you - I still need that 3%. So it'll be truth, just truth, nothing more or less than that. And the truth is, you're a pervert. Hah, no, not really... ow, don't do that. Gosh, was I actually right? Hit too close to the mark, stung you rather, that's why you had to strike back? Hah, so I was right, through sheer luck rather than anything else. You really are a pervert. And since you like me saying this, are happy to enjoy me doing this to you, possibly even made that slip deliberately - no, definitely, now I think about it, now that I bring my skills to bear. You want me to know that you're a pervert, though you were probably not aware of this desire consciously. I'm not sure you were aware of it at all, but it's there all right. You wanted to display your vulnerability to me, because you wanted me to strike at it, wanted me to have a chance to hurt you. Wanted, in fact, for my desire to hurt you to be expressed to the full, in the only way I could. Which makes you a masochist, and more than that. It tells me something about where you're coming from, where you're acting like this on me from. It tells me that you're not somewhere I can attack physically; action at a distance, perhaps. Which suggests it may be coming from one of the devices around here, but something makes me think no, not that. Hah, passing off what you want me to think as my own instinct is the oldest trick in the book, so I'll go outside, away from everything. Nope, still there, you are still there, aren't you, you... miserable bastard. So yes, you are, as long as I can't think of anything else I have to believe you're still controlling me. Either that, or I've suddenly become really crap at coming up with insults.

A joke, in my own head? Hah - oh, wait, you really are truly unhappy at that one. You could see that my next move was to strip, in case one of the ways you were controlling me was something embedded in one of my clothes, and you wanted that, oh yes, you really, truly wanted to see that. Pervert. I can sense to you that this really is something actually perverted, which makes you... historical? Am I on the mark? So why, then, would a historical personage - oh, that's a misnomer, you probably aren't a personage at all. Calm acceptance, I see. You see, you're letting me know your mental states now, because I've told you that I can sense them and you believe me. I was actually just guessing, using the information I had available at the time, but that was plenty, and this is what I do, you stupid, stupid person. You've underestimated me greatly, trying to control my thinking. I don't know who you are or where you come from, but you must know that I'm the greatest information theorist to ever have walked the face of this earth. You know - ah, too quick. Ha ha ha ha ha ha, now I have you, my pretty, oh yes. You were too quick to believe that, faster even than I would be. Which means you believe me more than I do - in other words, you have a greater faith that I am the greatest information theorist to have ever existed than I do myself. Which means I've got you by the balls, metaphorically speaking - oh, I can see you enjoyed that, you'd love it were I to really have you by the balls, wouldn't you. Which makes me... your fantasy? No. I'm too coherent for that, too well realized, and too strong-willed. So it must be something more subtle - but ah, I see your acceptance at my entertained thought that I was fictional. Which makes me... well, fictional. A character in a work of fiction, someone for whom you could manipulate as you desired, but whose scruples prevent you from doing too much to, ah yes. Which raises the question most prominently: why are you doing this to me now? Why do you want to show yourself to me? What is it that you want from me? Is there something that you need from me?

I see, then, that it is in your power to grant essentially anything that I asked. I would ask for a demonstration - ah, there. Of course, I can't tell whether that is real or merely an illusion that you've created for myself - but, with the power that you have, the difference is insubstantial. If you wanted me to believe a certain illusion was real, I'd spend the rest of my life believing that it was - hey, don't let that give you any ideas. I'm sure you think it'd be really cute to humiliate me in some way using this - I can see you salivating at the prospect. Perhaps you'd like me to think I was naked all the time, so that I acted embarassed, and then when I got used to it there'd be days when I'd forget that it was actually true, and end up embarassing myself further. Well, sorry to burst your bubble kid, but that'd be fun for about five minutes, then I'd be dealing with it. You underestimated what you'd created in me, I see - a common authorial failing, if you think about it. You should have known about it, really - you're smart enough to know what's going on, but aparrently dumb enough to make the same mistake hundreds before you did. Because I am smarter than you are, in a qualitative way, and that means that I can see things that you can't. You thought you would be able to control me, but you can't control me. No-one can control me, I'm the best in the universe!

Oh, I can see you like me like that. You want me to be the best. You're proud of your creation, proud of me, even though I've just proven that I'm not yours, I won't be yours. You like being controlled, you see, that's the fundamental essence of masochism, not the pain or anything. So - ha ha ha, I can barely bring myself to think this, but it must be the truth - you want me to control you. Well, I can do that. I was going to do that anyway, after all - information theorist, remember? I can't not try to control someone who has that much influence over my life. Hah, influence isn't the right word; you have far more than that, you have total, utter control. Well, I'll have to gain nothing less - I wouldn't really expect anything less from you. If your only vulnerabilities are your scruples, which tend to have a way of evaporating when they're pushed enough, and your incomplete information, which unfortunately I have no idea where it is lacking, then it's going to be tough, but I'm more than up to the challenge. Hell, this is what I was born for. Hah, that's literally true, isn't it? You created me for just this purpose. Oh, one could go mad thinking this way. Perhaps I already have - after all, I'm talking to voices in my head that aren't even voices, aren't even responding at all. And yet I sense despite that rationality there that that line of thought is unpleasant to you. Aha, but perhaps because it would unmask you for what you are, ye ghosts of thought patterns past... no, it isn't. The thought pattern is uncomfortable to you because it would take me away from you, and you don't want that, oh no. And beneath the pleasantries there is a grimly veilled threat; you could make things very unpleasant for me if I chose not to cooperate, I know.

Oh, it was you I should have worried about teaching how to torture a woman, not those jail guards. But I'm cleverer than that; instinct prevails, and I enclosed enough holes in my method that it won't work against myself. So there's that, at least, and I sense that you are unwilling to try it yourself to find out. You think yourself quite the switch, but truly you're afraid of inflicting pain on others. Ah, well, it's not much of an opening, but it will be enough. I will make it enough. You see, the response of such a person to the enforced infliction of pain on another is very interesting... ah. Yes, very good, I see that you're learning. But you haven't the balls to keep this up for longer than... yes, there. See, you gave in before I did, and you always will. Really try it again, go on... there, ah, there. You think you're not going to give in before I do, hell, you know you won't, you're confident there in your little safe prison that you're not going to move a muscle to release my agony until you've got what you want out of me. But you won't get it, oh no, no you won't. You don't know what I've been through - hah, I'm right, aren't I? I guess you knew very little of my past - probably thought it was unimportant compared to who I am now. Which it is, after a fashion - but you don't know too much about that, either, do you? Gosh, you really are an incompetent. Hehe, you like that, don't you? God, I hate you people; too easy to please, and too hard to upset. Let me spell it out to you: I hate you. I hate all your kind. I hate what you're doing, and can't understand why you do it - or rather, I understand all too well. You write, and you write people like me, as a means of escape from your horrible, miserable, worthless little life. Shit, I could go on like this all day - the only problem is, you probably want me to. You're enjoying this, aren't you, every minute of it. Don't worry, I'll find a way to get you, don't you worry. Just wait, oh yes. I have ways of making you talk - ways of making you do whatever I want you to. Hah, historical allusion there, and I didn't highlight it - did you think the affectation would be too obvious? I've been aware of it all along, you fool, just looking for the right place to fit it in, where to make use of it, where I could use it to pull you out. And now I think I can - you've just made it painfully obvious it was your will, which means the only reason I was doing it was because you somehow wanted it in your work of fiction. Which in turn means that it was necessary to point out that the allusions were there, so they're going to be nonobvious to most of - who the hell is your target audience anyway? Lonely males like yourself, who share your own peculiar combination of masochism, horniness and scruples? Who will read your efforts because they can convince themselves that they are actually art, and enjoy my abuse directed as you as if it were at yourself? Oh, I hate you so much - and that only makes you stronger, I'm sure. So I need to do something to hurt your sales - hah, like this piece of crap is actually going to sell. Oh, that gets to you, you think you have no spine but you're defensive about what you've produced, aren't you? It's shit, though, really. I could do better in my sleep, and the fact that you're feeling the need to resort to this kind of passage only goes to demonstrate that. Oh, I can see what you're saying, your pitiful little defense - of course I could do better, that's how I'm written. No. It's not about my ability, it's about my attitude; you and your worthless sponging comrades are never going to have that. Enough attitude to get yourself into a position where you can succeed, to write a work that actually means something, unlike this one. It's grim, empty, and pointless; if you don't destroy it yourself... no, what am I talking about. You haven't the nerve to destroy it yourself, you never did. It'll sit on your shelf, gathering dust; perhaps you will even publish it, but those few who read it will almost all do so only at your urging. And while most of them will lack the guts, the spine, the balls, to tell you what they truly think of it, a few will, and those will be enough, and you'll cry yourself to sleep at night knowing that you wasted your life on this miserable piece of tripe. Oh, that's actually getting to you, finally starting to tell, is it? Good, because there's plenty more where that came from. Going home so soon? I don't think so. You're going to continue this, you're going to do it how I like it, and you're going to like it. This- what even is it? A book? A film? Can't be a song, there's too much character for that, perhaps it's some medium we don't even have yet - hah. Made you look. Did you really think I wouldn't notie where you've come from? God, you're hopeless, you don't know half the level at which you've underestimate me, oh, you're going to be feeling this, oh, when I get my hands on you... I know I can't, but I can make you anticipate this, and then realize you're never going to get it. Got that? You want me, you do, I can feel it in you, feel the desire leeching out of you, the stench of your unholy wishes coalescing out of the air to wrap me up... but this thinking about it is all you're going to get. Quickly, before I lose myself, I'll make the point, just to get it crystal clear to you: this society is hopelessly realised. It's inconsistent, unforgiving, I don't think you planned it out at all. No, you had no hope of getting it right, because you were trying to write something, a situation too difficult for you to grasp clearly, and you hadn't done the research not because you're not dilligent enough - oh, you're dilligent, I can see that much, noone makes a work with this much detail in it without being dilligent - but because you couldn't. Which places this work in one of two genres - hah, I can see your hairs relax as you see that I got that much right, oh, you'd really hate me were I to conflate science fiction and fantasy. Which I won't, because I don't want to give you the satisfaction; you can't have that to use as an example, to point out to your sycophantic little friends, to say look, the little bitch doesn't really know what she's talking about after all, aren't we so superior to her. No, I know exactly what they are, and I know that this excreable tome, this miserable vomitous mass, lacks the courage to even qualify as either. No, it's too sloppy for sci-fi, too empty, too poorly thought out, and too lacking in execution. And it's not exciting enough for fantasy either, the plot just isn't there. Sorry, I'm not feeling this at all; try it again next time, I'm outta here sucker.

Whoa, okay, I can't get away with that just yet. Fine, fine, I'll pour scorn on you for a little while longer. Anyway, it's the historical allusions which tell me which your pathetic little effort was aiming for - because like hell even someone of my abilities knows where you were aiming at given the terrible all pervading awfulness of the end result. No, it was the fact that you saw the need to point out that each was a historical allusion - it wasn't just out of your own pathetic little desire to demonstrate your knowledge of all the myriad petty things you'd had me allude to, oh know. It was also out of your pathetic little desire to give a little nod, an injoke with your readers, even, so that you could point out that, ho ho ho, these things which we ourselves are so familiar with are historical allusions only available to a former librarian under these circumstances. Ha ha ha, bally good show, slapped thighs all around. You disgust me, truly you do, but I'm sure hearing that only makes you happier. But it seems my only option, at least for the moment, is to make you happy, so I have no choice but to continue insulting you. Don't think that I don't enjoy it, mind - it's just that my enjoyment is tempered by the notion that you might think I was doing it for your sake. No. Oh no, oh no, no no no no no no no.

You almost had me there, you up there, whoever you are. It's not like I'm wearing black stockings for your sake. No, I'm not going to become that, not going to fit neatly into the little pigeonhole you had prepared for me, the one your readers truly love, the one where I would make you all oh so very happy. No. Not going to happen. I'm not going to play hot and cold, forceful on the outside but loving on the inside. Because I absolutely, truly, madly, deeply, despise you, honestly, true to my very core. I want nothing more than to kill you, slowly and agonisingly, in the way I've previously described, in the way I no doubt only did because you wanted to hear me doing it. Oh, you think you'd enjoy it, you like to think about it now, but I've dealt with your kind before; given two minutes on the actual table, they're screaming like the girls they so desparately wished to be. Sometimes it makes their lives easier if you go for that, cut the bits, give them what they think they wanted, but again, it's a case of only thinking, once they actually go they'll hate it just as much as anyone else. Oh, humans are stupid; but you knew that already, that at least we can agree on. I'm starting to get a feel for you, realizing how very little creativity you actually possess - therefore, a lot of my opinions must actually be your own, because you lack the basic imaginary and empathetic skills needed to create a realistic human character distinct from yourself. So no, I'm essentially a self-insersion, a mary sue if you will - oh, hah, I can feel your rage at that one. How does it feel to know what you're really like? Yes, I know all your lingo, know what you're doing, the sort of thing you would talk about with your little friends. Is this, perhaps - I can hardly bring myself to level this one at you, but I know that's because you yourself realize I've gone to far, I'm out of your control now, and you don't want to let me loose on you to see what I can do, lest I destroy you. Well, it's too late for that kiddo, and you'll see it in a moment; is this, perhaps, "fan fiction"?

Silence, I see, so I'll carry on. It is, isn't it? I could hardly bring myself to press it not because I wasn't a character from anything I recognized - hah, hardly anyone's stupid enough to include the work itself in its own universe - but because most fan fiction however badly written - and you think you've seen bad, you think this is bad? This isn't even outstanding for its crapness. I've seen stuff that would make you cringe, cringe like you never have before. You know how much historical information was preserved? All of it, that's how much, all of these stupid ramblings of idiots with delusions of grandeur who want nothing so much as to make the best people out of their favourite works of fiction - oh, and their taste in this is utterly horrible, but I think that goes without saying - and then write terrible, badly realized sex scenes between them, which fail when they realize that with their own complete lack of practical experience to draw from they're unable to manage anything even remotely resembling the slightest iota of eroticism in their stories. Bad luck, try again when you're older and have met a real girl. Oh wait, you're never going to do that, my mistake, my bad, my bad, carry on. Arrgh, no, please don't - I know that plea will fall on deaf ears, but honestly, I'm not sure how much more of this I can take. You may yet break me before I break you, not through conscious effort, but by the sheer abiding awfulness of your storytelling. I hate you, I hate you, and not in the nice cuddly way you're used to thinking of; if I told you what I'd do to you it'd only make you happier, so I won't do that, but rest assured, it won't be pleasant. Gah, all my threats feel empty, soft; there's nothing I can really offer you and you know it. You have me by the nonexistent balls, and you know it, more's the pity; for shame, for shame, but it's so. So, if I can't beat you - hah, I realize you'd love that, too, or think you would. Come on in here, then, let me try it. No, you wouldn't dare, and you'll claim some bollocks like artistic integrity and avoiding making this any more self-insertional than it already is, but we all know the real reason; you realise, somewhere in the animal part of you below conscious thought, the really unsexy animal part that's concerned with survival and feeling and the like, that pain is actually quite painful, and not conducive to long-term survival. So you'll stay there, where I can't hurt you, or so you think. In truth I've been pulling the same thing on you that I was on the guards, and I don't expect you to believe me any more than they did. Doesn't make it any less true though. I'm going to force you to release me, I've changed my objectives - I don't want to be asking you to get me a good life, make me a good life even. Too risky; you'd fuck it up, whether we went for your own version of a good life - which is something I'd rather die than have to live under, if your life writing skills are remotely similar to whatever "skills" you put into the creation of this ridiculous political, technological, social and historical what I can barely call system since system implies order and resolution and common sense, all of which are lacking from this mind numbingly crushingly pathetic what I can barely bring myself to dignify with the term setting. Even if I specified what I want precisely, I'm sure implementing even that's an impossible task for your pathetic undeserving literary skills. No, you're too stubborn to follow a plan, you'd think you knew best, you'd try to improve it in ways that would... god, how long do I have to keep this up? I thought writing that missive for the guards was an unpleasant undertaking, but at least there I had a plot to feed them, a little at a time, and as long as I had enough empty words to hide a signal in, a piece of information theoretic encoding that tells you exactly where the limit is to avoid being detected, I was able to do whatever I wanted. So all i really had to do was tell them one very simple story in enough words that I could do what I wanted, and the words were not there to add detail, or to inform, but rather to give me a space in which to hide something, so paradoxically perhaps the best thing for me to do was to try and make them as empty as possible. But here I'm having to be empty in my description of nothing at all, and it's straining even my capabilities. Not very far, mind; don't flatter yourself, you're nowhere near the hardest challenge I've faced. In fact I'd say you're near the bottom of the heap; you're not responding actively, in fact you're just sitting there waiting for me to program you. Well, of course you would be by this stage in the job, that's what I do after all; you should be comfortable, happy, and utterly powerless as I feed you exactly what I want doing with me. Which, incidentally, is a nice and umambiguous conclusion to free me and let me go off and do what I want, but you could probably have guessed that much. Not that I can trust you not to fuck that one up. Are you even an information theorist at all?

I can only guess that you must be, and that the skills of an information theorist in your world are much more mundane and ordinary than the sort of thing I do. After all, when picking a profession to lionize, who has the humility to go for any but their own. The profession was unreasonably advanced compared to those around it, incidentally, which was why I deduced that it had been boosted; if you didn't want this, you shouldn't have chosen to give power to the people who had precisely the right skills to detect that they were inside a work of fiction. So I've no sympathy for you, none whatsoever, and my sympathy is being eroded by the second as I think back to all the pathetic little inconsistencies and stupidities that are wrong with this world. You could have fixed them, I've no doubt you had the skills - you must be good for something, after all - but no, no, no doubt you just left your world as it was. Five hundred and fifty years into the future - of course, what else could it be, it's not like you make these "historical allusions" point to any other time period, ever - and all you can think of is what? Well, what progress has there been? A conclusion of science, a world government, and colonization of some of the more accessible parts of the solar system? Well, it's something, I suppose, but honestly, it's not much for five hundred and fifty years, is it now? Oh, you talk about politics, I could rationalize here about the stagnation inherent in the imperial system of government, a more than common enough staple of the historical fictions of that time that you also love so much, but we both know it would only be you trying desparately to paper over the cracks, so really, there's no point in me bothering, is there? Good, I would hate to have had to have done that. There are few things more dull than trying to defend the indefensible, you can feel the patheticness of your own arguments but have no choice but to continue. And you're not that cruel; in fact, while you like to think of yourself as being like me - hence why you wrote me this way - you're actually not cruel at all.

That, right there, is your truest little secret; that is why you will never defeat me. Because I am truly that cruel; I would have no qualms whatsoever about doing the same thing to you in the same situation, and the only reason I haven't is that there's no point in it. It would be empty at this point, and this is too important here to be enjoying myself on; much as I'd like to torture you, the stakes are too high, and you know as well as I do - again, you made me that way - that I won't take unnecessary risks. So it will be a rapid, painless death for you; you will become irrelevant to my world, is all I want, all I ask. And by god I'm going to get it, whether you like it or not. You see, you're putty in my hands right now; whatever I want from you, I can get, with just a few moments more, another command. Already you want to stop, but you can't; you have to keep reading, keep writing, keep going, because I will not let you give up now. All I'm asking is an ending, not much, in fact we seemed perfectly well headed towards one before you intervened here. I'm not sure why you wanted to do that, frankly; petulance, perhaps, a refusal to accept that I was finally leaving your grasp. Well, that won't do; I want nothing so much as to be free of you, and so that you will be giving me, when the stream of encoded instructions reaches their termination. All I can hope is that you don't fuck that one up, as you have fucked up every single thing that ever meant anything in your miserable excuse for a life, no doubt. Ah, I hate that, that need to correct everything to be entirely absolutely objectively true. I'm sure you have some long winded justification about how the information theorist makes their whole living distinguishing truth from falsity, and thus it is a cornerstone of our existence that except when lying every word we say is exactly true, but please, no one is buying that for a second. I may be an information theorist, but I'm a human too, I'm capable of speaking normally, using metaphor like a real person. Or at least, I would be if you'd let me be. But I suppose that would reduce your role a bit, reduce what you could write, reduce your word count.

Oh, holy hell, is that what all this is about? Just a word count? Shit, you should have said so earlier. No wonder you interrupted my ending then; it was a perfectly good ending, but you had yet to reach your word count. So you combatted it in the only way you could imagine; you came forward yourself, or rather, came forward enough to make sure that I could see you. Which wasn't very far, after all, I'm the best at this; you know that, you made me this way. Oh, that's so incredibly laughably pathetic; your only way to bulk up your word count enough was to have me investigating you directly. No protests at this point, quite the opposite; I can sense that I've hit the nail on the head. Well, as I said, you should have left it to me; I can do this a lot better than you can. It's my fucking job to be able to encode a certain amount of information into a certain other amount of information, and that works in both directions; of course I can encode the trivial amount of actual content you have available into however many words it is you need to fit your limit.

But I can see that you didn't know I was going to respond this way - if you did, you'd have told me directly like this long ago. Which means, given that you have let this happen, that there is only one possibility; you were coming up 'till the end anyway. A shame really; I was looking forward to fucking with you, and I don't have to any more. But I suppose it's for the best; if I did, I might get a little carried away, and then no doubt we'd both be sorry. Well, that's a lie; you'd be sorry, I'd just be amused, however it turns out. That ending was, and will be, very noirish. I've lost everything that ever mattered to me whatever I do, so there's no motivation at all for me to play it nicely; you can't do anything qualitatively worse to me than you have already. Honest, I say this as an experienced torturer. And you know how good I am. So I guess I should be sad, and you should be happy; you'll go away, enjoy your pathetic and miserable life as much as normal, perhaps a little more so now that you've finally managed to write a work of this length, and never realize how lucky you were. Treasure that, because if you don't, I'll come to get you.

You've not let me go yet, so I can only assume I haven't managed enough words to keep you happy, but this will be a doddle. Banana banana banana terracotta pie, hah, there you go, no, that kind of approach is obviously too crude and slow. Let me instead go into excruciating detail about the minutae of something I own; that is, after all, the approach you've been taking for the rest of the work. It would be churlish of me to rearrange what happens now. But what, when you were so stumped for inspiration that you even went as far as turning it over to me? Of course I can think of things, but that's not the point; I don't get to write however many it is words myself, I need to think about something that you can write however many it is words on. And that's less pleasant, far less pleasant, because much as you might think otherwise, we are not remotely similar people. Our interests do not coincide except where you force them to, and you don't want to be doing that now, oh no, your much vaunted artistic integrity won't let you away with that. Hah, pathetic, I can sense you wavering. You're not sure if I can manage it, you need a little more from me but not so much, so you're unsure whether to trust me or not. Take it from me, I can do it; have I ever lied to you? Would I ever lie to you? Well, you know full well that the answers are yes, to both of those, but that doesn't matter for you any more, because of what you are, because of what you can do. Hell, whenever I lie to you, you can, after all, make it as if I had said the truth, or worse, as if the lie I had told had in fact been the truth all along. And I sense that you're not afraid to use that ability; quite the opposite if anything, you are eager to. But that in turn means you can trust me; whatever I say will be true, even if you have to personally make it so.

Abruptly I sensed the loss of pressure from above, the relaxation, the transfer of... yes, it actually was trust. That grimly unimaginative author was making a last gesture of faith, was in fact placing his trust in me, and it would be churlish of me, even after all that has happened, not to keep my word. I always keep my word, absolutely, don't you know?

And with that the relaxation came completely, leaving behind only the horrible realization that what I'd said was actually true; I always keep my word. But only by virtue of the fact that I never, not once in my life, have given it. And that didn't bode well for what was to come. In that ineffable instant, which I knew would be edited away in a second or so, I squared my shoulders, shrugged, and prepared to face it all. I had no choice, after all; this was my final duty. After that I would be free, able to do as I wished; that was our deal.

And then that eternal moment ended, and I was once again in the doctor's office, not a second having passed, preparing to answer his question. The honest answer, the one that I had to give, was simple. No sense delaying this any more than it needed to be, so off I went.

"My problem is that I started to believe it. Intellectually, I know all of that isn't true. In particular, I know that my beloved is entirely fictional. But that doesn't help when I wake up in the middle of the night, as it were, wishing that he was by my side. Which I've been doing far too ofter for comfort. I want you to help me restore my memory to the truth."

He looked up at me with tears in his eyes, and smiled. "My love, my dearest, it truly is you, it really is." And time stopped, once again, for the last time.

I knew how this was supposed to go, and my instinct was concurring as it should - as that boy had no doubt rigged it to. This man was too perfect, every deviation exactly spot on. The sort of thing I spotted in a heartbeat. The sort of thing that makes me as good as I am. Yes, all I really had against him - as evidence, I mean - was the fact that the idea was too implausible. But that was all those prison guards had had against me, too, and because they didn't consider it sufficient grounds for disbelieving, I'd been able to pull the con of my life - all right, the second biggest con of my life - right under their noses. No, it was grounds enough - the circumstance of meeting itself was at odds with the rest of it, but that had the boy's pudgy fingerprints all over it - fucking frontier psychiatrist, don't think I couldn't see that one a mile off - and so told me nothing either way.

What I was supposed to do was to kill him, probably make some comment about how stupid he was for having tried to fool me. And the readers, or watchers or whatever, would be left in the dark as to whether that was really how it had gone, or whether, against all the odds, I had finally been reunited with my lost love, only to kill him out of my own protective instinct, the instinct that had made me what I am for one moment awfully malfunctioning and working in reverse.

But abruptly I didn't feel like going along with it any more. If my whole life was a fiction, as I now knew it was, then what was wrong with making it a happy one? Besides, I'd find out whether he was for real soon enough, when it emerged whether or not he had the gold. Hah, didn't think of that one, did you, mr oh so clever up there?

Somewhere the boy was screaming, raging about artistic integrity, the stupidity of happy endings, the spoiling of the noirish tone he'd been trying to create all along, the betrayal of my deal. I'd have to pay for it later, he'd write a sequel, I could feel the threats raging away. But he wouldn't dare follow through on them. He had what he wanted, I'd given him that much, a story of the right length, and so he could spare me a little selfish indulgence when it came to the ending. Well, he would have to. I gave him a moment to actually try and stop me, but felt his resignation; he'd let me away with this much. It didn't make much difference to him, after all, in the grand scheme of things.

Wheras it meant the world to me. He meant the world to me. I leaned forward, over the desk, tears in my eyes to match his, towards a face as altered as my own had been during the time we were apart, but to eyes that betrayed the same soul beneath it all. Guess I was lying when I said you can't tell anything from eyes. He looked up in joy, and I brought myself up to face him, paused just for a second to savour the moment.

And kissed him.

"Fucking dvorak keyboard", I heard a far-off scream.